Born in Trinidad, Roger Mooking grew up in Edmonton and now lives in Toronto. The title of his first cookbook, Everyday Exotic, refers to his bifocal perspective on food in Canada. As explained in the introduction, at the age of five, on his first day at school in Alberta, his teacher patted him on the head and said, “My aren’t you exotic?” Of course, what’s exotic to one person is often commonplace to another.
Mooking understands what’s often called “ethnic” cooking by the monoculture of English Canada (not exactly renowned for its culinary creativity) is just normal food to someone from another land. In Everyday Exotic, based on his Food Network cooking show of the same name, he bridges the cultural divide by adding unconventional ingredients to “non-ethnic” dishes. Pot roast, for example, is braised with fresh ginger, ginger beer, and cinnamon. Halibut is roasted in parchment-paper packets with saffron. Grilled lamb kabobs receive a tamarind sauce. Jalapeño peppers are added to vegetarian lasagne.
Mooking calls these additions “obedient ingredients” and devotes multiple short chapters to them, explaining what they are and offering a handful of recipes for each. There are dozens in the book, spanning cultures from Asia to the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas.
Before the reader conjures up visions of kitschy 1960s-style pineapple-garnished ham roast or shrimp suspended in tomato aspic, it should be made clear that Mooking is an accomplished and highly regarded chef, who received rave reviews when cooking this sort of fusion cuisine at the Toronto restaurants Kultura and Nyood. He knows his stuff and brings a sophisticated palate to these recipes.
It’s too bad such standards did not apply to the book’s photography, which is disappointingly amateurish, with lighting both glaring and murky, clumsy composition, and inept food styling. Such cosmetic concerns can be ignored, however, because Mooking’s creative culinary vision delivers dozens of adventurous recipes that home cooks should be delighted to discover and explore.