King of the grill

Barbecue food is getting adventurous, but Canadian chef Roger Mooking draws the line at mixing the savoury and sweet

The first dish chef Roger Mooking (above) learnt to make was wontons.
The first dish chef Roger Mooking (above) learnt to make was wontons. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Canadian chef and TV host Roger Mooking loves to eat all sorts of cuisines. Just do not serve him American-style Chinese food.

"Dishes such as chop suey and chicken chow mein - that's not real Chinese food. It's all just too sweet and it's overkill in every way, so I don't eat that stuff.

"When I see those AmericanChinese buffets, where people just pile their plates with all that orange sweet and sour stuff, I find it so disgusting. If I'm going to eat Chinese food, then I have to eat the proper stuff."

Perhaps his allegiance to authentic Chinese food has to do with his unique heritage. Even though he takes after his Trinidadian mother looks-wise, his paternal grandfather is Chinese.

"I grew up eating proper Chinese food and the first thing I learnt to make was wontons, with ginger, shallots, rice wine and water chestnuts. So I don't do the orange sauce stuff."

Of course, his other great food love is barbecue, which is evident in the way he gushes about it in the TV series Man Fire Food (2012 to present) where he is seen travelling across North America in search of the best barbecue joints.

After having tried so much barbecue, is he not concerned about carcinogens and other potential cancer-causing agents?

The energetic chef, who is married with four daughters aged two to eight, says with a chortle: "Nah, I'm not too worried. It's all things in moderation, right?

"I love my barbecue, but I also love my steamed vegetables, so it's all good."

1 Why the fascination over cooking with fire?

Partly because of the difference in flavour, but socially, there is a difference when people are gathered around a fire too. The conversation is different and the length of time that you sit around together is different. When you're outside cooking at a barbecue, you have to tend to the fire and the flame.

2 What is one thing that should never go on a barbecue?

I can't really think of anything, but what I can say is that I hate it when people put bacon together with sweet things. So if someone barbecues bacon and then puts it on top of a doughnut, I would say: "Please don't do it."

Many people love the combination, but bacon is bacon and dessert is dessert. They shouldn't go together.

3 Do you see a trend of barbecue becoming more gourmet?

Definitely. I visited this place called Hometown Bar-B-Cue in Brooklyn and the guy does some amazing stuff with barbecue. He has this dish of Korean-style barbecue pork ribs, which are smoked, then deep-fried and garnished with chives and sesame seeds.

So I do see a trend of people becoming more inventive with barbecue dishes, coming up with new concepts for the younger and more adventurous crowd.

4 What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to barbecue?

People are hungry so they just go straight for the highest heat immediately, but that burns everything.

You should instead look at barbecue as a big event, where you map out your strategy of when you change the coals and when you marinate your meats beforehand.

Some things need to be cooked over a low fire for 12 hours, so you can't expect everything to be fast. But when the food is finally ready, everyone will be in a good mood, so don't rush things in a barbecue.

5 You are married with four daughters. Do you ever feel dominated by girls in the household?

Yes, every second of every single day (laughs). That's a lot of ladies in the house, but they're all very sweet and loving. When I come home, they run up to me and hug me and just bowl me over.

But they do get very emotional and my girls will fight over things such as them copying each other's ponytails. I mean, how do I even approach that? Luckily, my wife is like a Jedi with this stuff and she turns them into angels.

6 You have to travel often for work, filming episodes of your shows across North America. Is it difficult being away from home so much?

Of course it's always hard. But this is how I feed my family and it is also what I love to do professionally, so you find the way to execute everything somehow.

Every year, we will plan the calendar for the year ahead. The first thing that goes on there are everyone's birthdays, anniversaries and other landmark events.

Then, as much as possible, I try to schedule all my work stuff around those dates, so that I make sure I'm home for those occasions.

7 This is your second time in Singapore. How well have you taken to the local food?

Before I came to Singapore, I didn't even know chilli crab existed. But I've tried it and it's so good.

People also tried to get me to eat durian for a radio interview and I loved it so much, I ate it all.

They were like, "Can we take it away now, the studio stinks", but I was like, "No, I want to finish this."

8 How would you like to be remembered?

Just that I loved what I did and that I took care of the people around me.

Man Fire Food Season 3 premieres on Asian Food Channel (StarHub TV Channel 435) on Sunday at 10pm.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline King of the grill. Subscribe