This week’s featured chef partner is chef and soulful musician Roger Mooking. Famous for his unique flavor combinations and experimental cooking style, he joined forces with grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel on the show Red, White & Grill, where he put a new spin on traditional backyard grilling with original recipes such as Wood-Planked Buffalo Burgers with Buffalo Mozzarella and Tandoori-Style Octopus.
I asked Mooking for the inspiration behind his creative dishes, as well as his best tips for become more adventurous in the kitchen. Hear what he had to say in the following Q&A.
How did you become interested in pursuing a culinary career? What was your inspiration?
I was inspired by my family and for the desire to create things. Also, the food world is one where I can never learn everything there is to know about food in one lifetime – being guaranteed to learn something new every single day is inspiring.
How would you describe your food philosophy and cooking style?
My food philosophy is all about experimenting. I never cook the same thing twice unless its for a restaurant set menu. I like to balance out the best of what is fresh and local with global ingredients and cooking techniques in a way that is approachable.
Each episode of Everyday Exotic explores one unique ingredient. How do you make unfamiliar ingredients accessible to other cooks? What tips do you have for people beginning to incorporate new ingredients into their cooking?
The best way is to start playing with one new ingredient every time you go to the grocery store. I always do this because I like to introduce the kids to new stuff all the time. Buy something that interests you and play around with it in the kitchen. My cookbook has a few great starting points for this.
What are a few of your favorite ingredients to cook with that other people often overlook?
I like to use honey to add flavor to dishes. Sometimes I will use it in place of refined sugar in recipes, or other times just to boost the flavor of everything else without making the dish sweet.
What’s your grilling style? What are your favorite foods to grill?
I love to grill seafood and to make biscuits, eggs, bacon and pizza on the grill with special pans. My grilling style is experimental — I’m always trying to come up with some new way to do something while honoring the classic techniques at the same time.
What are some of your top grilling tips for readers?
Don’t grill everything on high heat all the time. Some dishes require medium heat, others indirect heat, and some want that kiss of blistering heat. Make sure you are using the correct technique for the best results.
What’s the inspiration behind the recipes you developed for our grilling special, Red, White & Grill?
For this menu I wanted to make something classic (a burger), but of course I wanted to mess with it a little. Also, I wanted to introduce a global grilling dish (octopus) that is familiar in other parts of the world to the Texas mindset. There is a lot of playfulness in my menus because I think food should always be fun.
How would you encourage other cooks to put a fresh, unique spin on their usual grilling repertoire?
Experiment. Buy new ingredients you’ve never tried and have fun. This is the best way to evolve in any cooking situation. Always be seeking out new ideas and new ways that chefs may take on the classics.
You’re also a soul musician. How do you balance music and cooking, and in what ways are they similar?
I create a balance between music and food by working with both of them all the time. I find all creative endeavors are similar: there is a seed of an idea, then you are acting on that seed, reworking and revisiting the process, and finally piecing it all together into a finished piece. Whether it is a song or a dish, the process is the same.
Do you cook at home for your family? If so, what are some dishes you prepare for them?
When I’m home, I’m the in-house chef. I cook whatever my experiment is for that day. It is always different and always something new.