When his group Bass in Base disbanded in the late ‘90s, Roger Mooking took a left turn into the field of culinary arts. Now he’s a bona-fide celebrity chef, with two shows airing on the Cooking Channel, guest appearances on numerous food-based programs, and the popular cookbook Everyday Exotic, teaching fans all about international cuisine.  

But while cooking has become his main path, Mooking’s passion for music never went away. In 2008, he released his first album in over a decade, Soul Food, and now follows it with Feedback. As a veteran of the Toronto music scene, he told us all about the “hum” of his hometown, his complementary skills in the kitchen and recording studio, and what he considers unhealthy music.

Did you find the music scene substantially different than when you left it?

The industry’s completely different than it was even 10 years ago. The ways record companies operate and behave, the infrastructure around artists, have all totally transformed. It was a different landscape ... but actually making the music, that’s forever the same.

It’s an interesting conundrum. It’s both easier and more difficult (to get exposure): anybody can post anything for public viewing, but that doesn’t mean the public is viewing it, right? Easier to release, harder to break through.

You have two careers ...

I have one career! I’m an entertainer.

Let’s say two different sets of skills. Would you recommend developing a fall-back talent, as you did, to up-and-coming artists?

For me cooking was equally a passion, and a means to live. It’s hard to make a living as a musician. It was an easy thing because I generally loved cooking. It continued to feed me literally and figuratively. Would I advise it? Everybody’s different. Some people have the time to do that, others just don’t. Some people are so stranded in the “left brain” that they have no hope of (say) managing a kitchen.  

I don’t know if I’d advise (following my lead). It’s a lot of work.

Do you brainstorm music ideas while cooking, and vice versa?

I have to learn to live in the moment. If I’m cooking a dish, that’s all I’m thinking about. If I’m writing a record, that’s all I’m consumed by. That’s how I’m most effective.

Can music be bad for you in the same way as food? What’s the Big Mac and large fries of music?

[Laughs] There’s a lot of people making music that think they love music, but they love fame more. They’re working on a craft, but not for the craft, you know? Like if you’re a writer and you want to be (on the level of) Stephen King, that’s cool, but there’s a lot of technique that goes into it. If you honour craftsmanship you’re destined to do great things. It may takes years to be a great artist but if you approach it from a place of honesty you’ll do great things, eventually. So a lot of musicians just aren’t interested in the craftsmanship of the songs, but in their persona, which are two completely different things.

Internationally, what is considered “Canadian” food?

Everyone thinks (we all eat) poutine. In New York: “You eat poutine all the time?” No! Only if you’re drunk in Montreal at four in the morning. Internationally we’re known for that.

Is Feedback’s lead single “The Hum” inspired by Toronto in particular, or just the feeling of city life in general?

In the past few years I’ve traveled all over the world, you know. Bangkok has a certain energy. New York ... each city has its own vibe, a “hum.” Even quiet, at 3 a.m., there’s still that vibrating essence that you feel. I wanted to gather the pulses of all those cities but also paint a picture of Toronto, which I think is the best city in the world.

I took Toronto for granted for many years. But since I’ve been all over I realized there’s something very unique about it. Multiculturalism lives here in a very earnest way. In Thailand, all the restaurants up the block are Thai. In Toronto there are 10 different kinds of restaurants along the same block. It’s an obvious sign of multiculturalism, the restaurants, but you walk through the community and you see how it mixes people. They’re mashed up in such a unique way.

And no one looks too strange, here. I’ve found it takes a lot to get people to stare at someone in Toronto, like “That guy looks out-of-place.”

It has that New York vibe. Nobody is fazed by anything. But Toronto has a stronger small-community feel as well.

is out now via Warner Music Canada.

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