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Interview: Roger Mooking of ‘Man Fire Food’

July 2, 2013 | By More

Chef and host Roger Mooking talks about the whole cow being fire roasted and smoked at Bovinova 2.0 in Greer SC on May 19th 2012 as seen on Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food, Season 1.” Photos by Peter TaylorChef Roger Mooking, returns to Cooking Channel for the second season of Man Fire Food. Roger’s fascination with flames continues as he travels across the country in search of the most inventive ways to cook with fire, and this season the heat is hotter and the flavours are bolder. From traditional Hawaiian grub smoked in an underground lava pit to whole ducks on Brazilian skewers cooked on top of an outdoor oven, each stop delivers sizzling recipes and out-of-this-world heat.

Where did you get your passion for cooking? Who was your inspiration?

My grandfather came from China and ended up in Trinidad in the Caribbean. After many years of working hard he opened his own bakery and restaurant, at one point my dad bought one of those restaurants off of him and ran the restaurant for 20 years. All my aunts and uncles on that side of the family owned restaurants and catering companies to this day in the Caribbean. So it was really in my blood and I wanted to be a chef from the time I was 3 years old. I don’t know if I could cite one individual. My grandmother on my mother’s side was an amazing cook and artist so I’ve just been surrounded by really creative people and food interested people my whole life so it’s kind of been a patchwork collective of people that have fed that interest. Then I went into professional kitchens and learned from other chefs. I saw how driven they were and interested and I was a sponge for all these people.

What can viewers expect from Season 2. What’s different from the first season?

From season 1 to season 2 we’ve really honed in on what the concept of the show is. Because we go into shooting the shows and we don’t get to see what the final edits are until we are halfway through shooting one of the seasons. So in the first season we didn’t get to see what the show feels like until we halfway shot it, and then we want to make little tweaks, but we’ve already shot it. So going into season 2, we had the kind of breadth of experience of knowing all the things that we feel are really powerful and meaningful from all of those captivating things from season 1 and now we get to take all of that artillery and build it into season 2. We just really refined the concept, honed in on it. Really made sure we got really captivating people who are building fantastic contraptions and who like to build big fires and make delicious food and we’ve been really strict about making sure we only adhere to that.

You get to meet some pretty interesting people while shooting the show. Who was the most colourful person that you’ve met?

There was a guy we met actually named Tink Pinkard in Texas. He’s just a big grizzly bear looking guy with a heart of gold. He has a great  group of friends around him. He does some really delicious food, whole hog porchetta, and he was just a warm person and so inviting. Normally we do two locations in every episode but we were just so compelled by him and what he’s doing, and his passion and his whole lifestyle and we stayed with him for a whole episode. That’s the first time we’ve ever done that in a season.

What locations have you visited?

We went to Hawaii, we’ve been to the san francisco area. Right now we are in the Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts area. Next week we go to Jamaica. We are really focused on making sure we capture the best stories. The best contraptions. The best fires. The best food.

Which location has really stuck out for you?

One thing I realize about doing this show is everybody in every nook and cranny has a passion for cooking over a fire. I just think it’s something so primal that people are just drawn to a fire. If I light a fire in the middle of this grass right now somebody is gonna show up with some marshmallows, somebody is going to show up with a guitar. Somebody is gonna bring some lawn chairs, and someone is going to bring a cooler with some beer.  And before you know it you have a little party going on. Just all these nooks and cranny’s and I’m always surprised by the most remote areas how inviting people are and receptive they are to sharing their stories with us.

Roger Mooking South Carolina

What’s your favourite thing to throw on the grill?

With this show it’s not just about BBQ, although it’s impossible to do a show like this and not cover the traditional BBQ stuff. It goes way beyond that. We go into this area right now, we’re doing clam bakes and Salmon. We go to Napa Valley and people are cooking whole lambs Asado style on a cross. We go to Hawaii and they are doing Emu, traditional Emu, like how you see a Luau with lava rocks and the laulau. Everybody just has their own little thing to it man, and that’s the beauty of it. You think “Oh, it’s a BBQ show”, but it just goes so much deeper than BBQ.

What’s a tip you’d give about cooking with fire?

One thing I’ve noticed, and the more expert pit masters will support this too. I think a lot of people think I want to cook dinner, I’m gonna turn on the BBQ on high, put my steak on there, keep it on high and it will be cooked faster. There’s a lot of benefit, especially when you’re using tougher cuts of meat and slow roasting, to go long and slow. With those kinds of cuts of meat. And even delicate cuts, like a rib eye, you can do it kind of quick and fast, but if you slow smoke that stuff, it’s great like that too. My number one thing is just don’t cook it on high, there’s a range of temperatures. A range of applications. A range of different types of woods. A range of what that heat source is. Proximity to the fire. Is it direct heat? Indirect heat? Are you smoking? You know there’s just so many variables, you gotta know what you want your end product to be and what your starting product is and how you want to get from A to B.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

At the heart of it, I think the show is about passion and community. At the end of every program there’s an eating scene with a feast of people and everybody is sharing this big thing that we just cooked and spent who know sometimes 12-24 hours, 48 hours if you include the marinating process and all that stuff. This process of cooking and preparing this meal that gets consumed for people. You don’t endeavour to do such a long winded project, unless you love it. I think that you are drawn to the passion of myself. The passion of the person that I’m cooking with who is my host for the day. And also the passion of the people who are coming to share this incredible feast. At the essence at the core of it, it’s all about love and community and fire is the conduit for all of those things.

How is this show different from the other shows you’ve done?

Everyday Exotic was an instructional show. That was basically me talking to the camera the whole time. And that’s a completely different animal than Heat Seekers, for instance, where that really is about me and Aarón Sanchez going out and trying to one up each other like frat boys. That’s a totally different dynamic, because not only am I talking to the person I’m cooking with in the kitchen, but it’s about me and Aarón having a rapport and a chemistry. We hit it off right away, so that was natural, but that is a completely different dynamic. With a show like this where I’m always meeting a new person every two days. We’re always doing a new type of contraption, new type of dish, new type of food, and new type of history that they bring to it. A lot of people are bringing their family traditions, whether they’re from Argentina or France or America, or Napa Valley specific. Everybody brings those things and I can’t treat every single person the same way. I can’t go and say we’re going to build this fire, we’re going to cook this steak and then we’re going to go home. Everybody is different. I gotta approach every interaction with all of these individuals in a completely different manner. Some people are more playful. Some people are more stoic. Some people are really conservative. With the playful people it’s easy, and sometimes you have to reel them back in. With the conservative people I have to be more playful to draw them out. So from host perspective it’s about adapting constantly, which is truthfully the essence of life.

What’s your favourite dish or comfort food when you relax at home?

An egg with soy sauce. Just a hardboiled egg with soy sauce. It’s magical!

What’s the importance of the connection of your love for food and music?

Well at the end of the day what I like to do is just make things. The things that I’m interested in making are what I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about music and I’m passionate about food. At the end of the day they all fall under the umbrella of entertainment. I love to entertain. I love to see people have a great time. And what better way to do that than to share that entertainment through music or through food. I can’t think of a better way to entertain and have fun with people you don’t know. All of the sudden it’s like you’re friends, you’re down.

What music do you like to listen to while you cook?

It changes. Sometimes if I’m in the middle of working on an album I might be playing some of the music that I was working on in the studio the day before. So that I can formulate ideas for lyrics. Or sometimes I’ll have the lyrics in my head and I’m working on a piece of music, and it’s in my brain, so I don’t want any other music playing. Sometimes I just want to turn on some Cassandra Wilson, or Kanye West, or Simon and Garfunkel or Odd Future. My musical tastes run a fairly wide range.

Roger also has Feedback, a new album coming out July 9. For more information visit rogermooking.com and Man Fire Food on the cookingchannel.com.

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Category: Food

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