Off the Clock—Roger Mooking On A Double Life In Music

"If you want to get what you want to get, you got to get it."

October 9, 2015 ● 4 min read

Off the Clock charts the things industry people love, outside of the kitchen.

When I was three, my aunt asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I told her that I wanted to be a chef. She laughed, and said, "You know how hard that is?”

I'm now the third generation food and beverage person in my family. Around my house, there were always two things that were prevalent: restaurant talk, and—because my dad used to collect records and my brother was a DJ—music. My dad owned a restaurant for 20 years, all his brothers and sisters still own restaurants in the Caribbean. My grandfather on that side of the family came from China, ended up in Trinidad, and opened bakeries and restaurants.

When I was about 15 or 16, I started working in a family restaurant called Albert's, very similar to a Denny's. I was the opening cook doing breakfasts. Around that same time, I also took up an interest in music. I used to listen to a lot of Ice-T, Public Enemy, and thought, I can be this.

I started rapping and people said I was good at it, so I kept doing it. I used to take all of my money from the restaurant and go to the recording studio. I formed a group, and that group went on to win music video awards. The music thing took off, to be honest, and all the while, I was still in Edmonton at the restaurant, which I liked. 
In my career, there's been periods where the music has dominated my calendar, and there's periods where the food has dominated. I had them mostly as two separate lives for a very long time, but one day I realized it wasn’t about the food industry and the music industry, it was all the entertainment industry. Once I decided that, everything started to line up. A cookbook is entertainment, a TV show is entertainment, a restaurant is entertainment, an album is entertainment. From that moment forward, my brain and spirit aligned. It was like, "Okay, now you figured it out. Let's pile it on you."

A young Mooking at the Juno awards. 

I think a lot of people get dissuaded from following more than one passion because it's hard work. I would work in the studio, rehearsing and practicing, do shows, and then turn around to go work in the restaurant at 6am. I'd leave the restaurant at 2pm and go back to the studio, and stay till midnight. That was not an uncommon thing for me. It’s because I want to do these things. This is what I love to do. I'm equally interested in both of them. Yeah, I'm tired, but Quincy Jones didn't not make Off the Wall because he was tired, you know what I mean? Maybe I'm just a sucker for the punishment, or I like to work more than most, I don't know. If you want to get what you want to get, you got to get it, right?

What I love about food is that it's instant gratification. I make something now, and in a half an hour my family is eating it, everybody's having a great time, and they can carry on for the next four hours. There's an immediate gratification, but it doesn't last. With music, it's not instant gratification, but it documents a period of time, an emotion, a thought, an idea that may help somebody get through the day, or help me get through a moment in time. It will last in perpetuity. I'm not a painter, I can't draw, but I really covet artists for that ability to create something that lasts. These two things can fulfill people, their spirit, their body, their soul, but on very different timelines. I find that very appealing.

What I think is interesting is some people will say you have to focus, focus, focus to become successful. Others will say you can be a jack of all trades, master of none. Personally, I just needed an outlet. I’d have these ideas for music in my head while I’m chopping onions in the restaurant. Do I just disregard the ideas? I just didn't see that as an option. I wanted to get them out. I needed that outlet to release my mind, or else they would just backlog.

Some days, you're amped up and you're really behind the idea. Some days you're really subdued, and the ideas are percolating, and you're just thinking through them. Some days you get hit with a thunderbolt of an idea, and you just out of bed and start working on it right away. That's what the creative process is. It's unpredictable, and you have to act in the moment. It's a shame when you don't act on the spark that’s been given to you. It's your duty as a craftsperson to bring the craft to life, right?

It was really the word ‘feedback’ that gave me the idea with this latest album. I wanted it to sound like the word did in my brain, the ideas looping back onto one another to create a feedback loop. Another album I did was called Soul Food, where I was just experimenting with soul music. We did acoustic piano ballads, acoustic guitar ballads.
To start an album project, I need a concept. Once that concept strikes me, I try and live within it. The same thing if I'm opening a restaurant. What are the parameters? Everything creatively goes into creating the concept inside of that form factor. If it's the design of the space, it's got to make sense. If it's the chairs we choose, it's got to make sense. If it's the lighting, it's got to make sense. It’s the same thing with an album. The details change, but overall if you're looking down from 30,000 feet, it's the same questions.

I've made a lot of mistakes…maybe you do a business deal and you realize you shouldn't have done it in retrospect. And now if a similar opportunity comes up, I can see it coming from a hundred feet, and I turn and run in the opposite direction. Without those learning experiences, I wouldn't be better at whatever I'm doing. The positive experiences are obviously very enabling, as well, so, I wouldn't change anything.

It’s a combination of things, timing, luck, hard work, personal resolve, life experience. I think if you're doing what you love all the time and people see that you're passionate about it, things just start to come together. You have to work hard, but things get there. They start working themselves out.

That’s exactly what happened.

Roger Mooking is the chef of Twist by Roger Mooking in Toronto, and the artist behind Feedback

As told to Cassandra Landry | Image by Jesse Bertrand