Aida Mollenkamp

7 Questions with Roger Mooking

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

The Cooking Channel (aka Food Network 2) debuted last year to a good deal of fanfare from parent company Scripps Networks.  From what I have seen so far, the new kid on the block is a force to be reckoned with.  Some familiar FN stars have found a place to truly shine.  Take for instance Aida Mollenkamp who’s stand-and-stir Ask Aida was at times awkward while her new food/travel show FoodCrafters is polished and sleek.

Several Food Network: Canada stars have also found an American home on the Cooking Channel as well.  Last year I was lucky enough to speak with David Roger Mooking of Everyday Exotic and Heat SeekersRocco host of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita.  I also got a little phone time with the gorgeous gastro-Guidette herself Nadia G. of Bitchin’ Kitchen.  Another FN: Canada arrival is Roger Mooking, host of Everyday Exotic (my vote for the best stand-and-stir on TV today) and co-host of the new Food Network hit Heat Seekers.

Heat Seekers is part food/travel series and part cop-buddy film.  Or as Food Network puts it, “For chefs Aarón Sanchez and Roger Mooking, Heat Seekers is a tongue-testing odyssey to discover the most deliciously spicy food across the country — and to figure out why these dishes are so fun to eat.”  I love this show.

Mooking is an anomaly within the cosmos of TV chefs; he’s an accomplished musician.  I don’t mean accomplished in the way that I gigged away the 90’s in Nashville’s underground rock scene.  I don’t even mean an accomplished musician as in Emril Legasse who is good enough on a trap-set to make a comfortable living.  I mean accomplished as in award winning.

Mooking won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for his work with the R&B group Bass is Base and their album Memories of the Soul Shack Survivors.  He’s been apart of three Much Music Video Awards to boot.  I feel quite confident in saying that Roger Mooking is the only person in history to both jam with James Brown and battle Michael Symon in Kitchen Stadium.

Cooking is a Mooking family tradition going back three generations and as a result Roger is first and foremost a chef.  By developing a culinary philosophy built on perfect execution of globally inspired culinary traditions, Chef Mooking has become one of the most respected chefs in the Great White North so now it’s time for America to get to know him.  To help, Roger answers 7 Questions:

Aarón Sanchez and Roger Mooking of Heat Seekers1.  You have an extremely diverse ancestry, how has it helped you as a chef?

It is who I am.  All of my creativity is framed by my background and family history.  As a chef it gave me a very broad jumping off point when it came time to create and develop new dishes.  Plus my family are very harsh culinary critics, if it’s good they will say so.  If it’s bad they look at you like “Get outta here with that ****.”

2. How does being a celebrity in Canada differ from being a celebrity in the States?

I don’t think about celebrity.  I create things that I love everyday and I realize that you’re hot and your not.  So it’s about touching people, which is the same all over the world.  Celebrity is a by product of touching many people.  I am blessed by being able to create things and share them.

3. Little is known in the States about the food scene in Toronto – can you describe what visitors should expect?

Toronto is a particularly culturally diverse city and although there are specific neighborhoods like India, Little Italy and such those areas are not exclusively populated by those people at all.  This I have discovered is very unique from having traveled a bit and I’ve come to appreciate this about the city.

There is also a great wine region and farming community in the Toronto area so the access to market fresh produce, meats and wines is also fantastic.  And because the demand from the immigrant communities is so great for their indigenous foods we also get a very wide variety of ingredients from all over the world in the most common of grocery stores not to mention specialty grocers.  I really feel that Everyday Exotic was born of this community and my cultural background.  The restaurant scene is as vibrant as New York but on a smaller scale.  People in Toronto are serious about their food.

4. You’re a very busy man, how does a show like Heat Seekers fit into your lifestyle?

I grew up eating hot sauce sandwiches with butter as a kid.  It was a favorite sandwich – bread, butter and hot sauce.  So it fits into my life very naturally.  The scheduling side of it is a challenge but I’m committed to it so we make it work.  My team is the best on the planet and they keep me in line and able to focus on what I’ve gotta do.

5. Were you and Aaron friends before shooting began on Heat Seekers?

Certainly in another lifetime.  The first time we met I felt he was my brother.  We get along very well and have a lot of respect for one another, not to mention a lot of jokes.

6.  Both of you strike me as pranksters, are there any practical jokes when you’re on the road?

Not ones that I can share here.  Hehehe.  But yes we have a lot of fun when we are shooting.

7. You’ve conquered Canada and you are taking the US by storm – what’s next for Roger Mooking?

I’ve only touched on about 10% of what is lying in my brain.  There is still a lot of stuff I would like to do and you will have to wait for it as it comes together.  We’ll save it for the next interview.  Deal???


Now that you know Roger Mooking the chef better, groove out to Roger Mooking the musician.  For more on Roger check out his web site HERE.

She is so beautiful. Wow.

Food Network Star Exit Interview: Justin Davis

The first order of business – Happy Fourth of July!  Because of the holiday Food Network delayed the exit interview until Tuesday.  I hope that hasn’t sent anyone into DTs.

Other than the occasional guest spot on Iron Chef America or Best Thing I Ever Ate the Food Network had earned a reputation for snubbing new media foodies.  A serious amount of disrespect considering that there are foodie web sites that are actually older than the Food Network.  Most people, given the opportunity, would rather watch Average Betty than Barefoot Contessa.  We’d rather see Chef Unleashed than the abomination that is Extreme Chef.

But that changed a little on August 2, 2008 when Ask Aida premiered.

The Aida in question was Aida Mollenkamp who had previously been the editor of the mega food site  Last year another food blogger, Aarti Sequeira (, competed and won Food Network Star 6.  It isn’t much, but it’s a start.

Justin DavisEnter Justin Davis, one part of the husband-wife food blogging team behind  Justin was poised to be the next new media foodie to find stardom on the latest installment of Star.

Justin hardly received any face-time the first two weeks, dominated the screen in week three, became a promising competitor in week four.  But in week five Justin’s run was over.  His elimination was puzzling since Chris had a much worse performance than anyone else on the show, for the second time this season.  But at the same time Justin never really put in a great performance.

Alicia Sanchez voiced displeasure with her experience on the show in a blog post that has since disappeared.  In it she suggested that contestants were not eliminated because of performance but according to script.  She has also voiced her suspicions about whether Chris and Penny were actors who were planted to spice things up.  As it turns out, Penny was an actressLast week Justin Balmes seemed less than joyful over his Star experience as well.

This week I get the feeling that Justin Davis was just relieved to be off the show based on this from his elimination post at Gastronomic Duo, “If Food Network wants Penny’s, Chris’s and Jyll’s, they can have them. I was called the opposite of authentic, I would say the same for the show. ”

Justin mentioned some of the close friends he made on the show even mentioning that when Justin B. was eliminated he actually teared up.  At the same time he clearly was not enamored with all of his fellow contestants saying, “A lot of the other finalists, I felt, were like little children standing in a room yelling Hey, look at me!  Look at me!”  He said inwardly he felt, “I don’t know that I want to play this game.”   “I put myself out there to be judged and to be critiqued.  I can’t be upset about how it turned out,” he admitted clearly upset.

It was obvious both watching the show and talking to him that Justin was not happy being part of Food Network Star.  His performance on the show was easily that of someone who was disengaged.  I think Bobby Flay nailed it when he said, “He dropped out of high school and I feel like now he is dropping out gain.”  Justin himself said, “I learned something about myself; I learned I’m not cut out for reality TV.”  An honest assessment.

Justin was also nice enough to share some of the warmer behind-the-scenes happenings.  He was especially impressed with the approachability of season two winner Guy Fieri saying, “He took the extra time to kind of step away from everything that was happening, which is the competition, and took a minute to talk to everyone as a person not as Guy Fieri.  It was really interesting to see that side of him.  He concluded, “I found him to be a humble and welcoming person.”

How has traffic to Gastronomic Duo been effected by your appearance on Star?

It definitely has seen an upswing.  I feel like we’re a little bit more on the radar.  Especially locally, my local appearances, we’ve seen a lot of really good traffic.  I’d still like to see a lot more obviously.

We’ve been running it for two years and I think the first year and a half was trying to figure out what it was going to be.  We’ve finally got it to the point that it looks good; it feels good. Now we just have to get the video in play.

To date Aida and Aarti are the only two Food Network celebs to get their start on the Internet.  Do you think that the network is missing out by not tapping new media sources for on-air talent?

I think that there’s a huge food blogging community out there and I have found them to be, for the most part, really supportive.  People want to start this online discussion about food and I think that food bloggers have a lot to say.  Do I think that they are totally missing out?  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t deter any food blogger from trying to go on the show.

On your blog post yesterday you alluded to “big things” on the horizon.  Can you give us a hint as to what you have in the works?

I’m lining up doing a small online series; it’s just going to be a quick four episodes.  Get it up and get it out there and try to market myself.  I think we’ll find some really fun special guests.  I think it’ll be an interesting thing.  I want it to be an expansion of my blog.  It’s my half of the blog.

I’m all about seducing women with food.  I think that if I can teach men to cook a lady something that they’re going to love I feel like they’re going to have a much better chance at getting a second date.  I’m going to do a little video series on that and see what the response is.

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Be sure to stop by each Monday for my exclusive mourning after exit interviews with each exiled foodie (HERE). This year I have also added the WTVC (WannabeTVchef) Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors. Be sure to check them out HERE. Click HERE to get all the news, gossip and snark on Food Network Star season 7.

7 Questions with Caitlin Zaino

Caitlin Zaino The Urban Grocer

As Food Network ventures further and further into the realm of reality TV and away from its foodie origins the folks at Scripps are making sure they do not alienate their original fan base.  The Cooking Channel was created so that those of us who watch food TV for the food still have TV to watch.  That is not a backhanded compliment, Food Network is insanely successful with the format they have now and there is no shame in following that path.  I am genuinely thankful that they gave us both networks.

For the Foodie, the Cooking Channel is like the hip new coffee house in town.  All the cool people hang there; it’s the to place to see and be seen.  Some of my favorite food shows are found there like Everyday Exotic, Chuck’s Day Off and Unique Eats.  These shows are geared towards the hardcore foodie.

Vying to enter that lofty place is The Urban Grocer.  According to the Cooking Channel it is a, “tour of the best, freshest urban food spots.”  Host Caitlin Zaino, “is on a quest to discover the most innovative, cutting edge foodstuffs.”  That’s a tagline I can get on board with.

The Urban Grocer is based on Zaino’s highly successful food site of the same name.  The site states, “Founding Editor, Caitlin Zaino, manages the Urban Grocer with immense support from a growing team of contributors, designers, digital strategy kids, interns, and finance brains. Together, this dedicated bunch is working zealously to develop and expand The Urban Grocer publication and brand. In March 2011, The Urban Grocer launched it’s own Supper Club, designing and hosting closed-door and pop-up dining events.”

I personally love that both networks are starting to realize that their next generation of Food TV stars are already honing their craft on the Internet.  Aida Mollenkamp, Aarti Sequeira, Ree Drummand and now Zaino have earned their stripes blogging about food before leaping into our DVRs.  This is a trend that I would love to see continue.  Seriously.

This weekend Cooking Channel premieres The Urban Grocer but first Caitlin Zaino answers 7 Questions.

1.    How old were you when you first started to cook?

Caitlin Zaino The Urban GrocerAbout 5 years old. I learned how to cook – like so many – in the kitchen with my Italian grandmother and I was hooked from the moment I began. I remember the first thing I made too: stone soup. By the time I was 7, I had created a pretend restaurant in my parents home called “The Little Blue House,” and each Sunday morning I would cook huge brunches for my family. I did that for way too many years. Once I stepped into the kitchen, I never left. And I’ve been enthusiastically cooking and chasing food since.

2. When did you decide that you could make food your career?

I always knew it was my passion – obsession even – but was told by a lot of “older” people that it was only a hobby. So while also keeping food in my life, I went on to get my undergrad and grad degrees in political science and the social sciences. I started working at the UN about 6 years ago and realized, not too far into it, that I was spectacularly bored and the only place I was ever truly happy was in the kitchen or talking about food or writing about food. I had worked on the line, hosted a radio show on food, and freelanced as a food writer for years. About 2 years ago, I decided to take the plunge and do it full time. Now, in addition to hosting and producing The Urban Grocer television special, I’m also the Founding Editor of my online magazine of the same name (The Urban Grocer) and I am conceptualizing, managing, and cooking supper club events too.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

As cliché as it is, Julia Child has always been a massive inspiration. Less for her French cooking, then her place as a strong woman in the kitchen and everything she’s given to the gastronomic world. I also am mad for Jamie Oliver. I remember seeing him on TV as a kid and thinking, if this guy can be so cool and cook, then I want to be just like him. I’ve always admired his career and still take massive inspiration from what he’s done and how he’s evolved.

4. If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

Well, I’ve tried out what I thought I could be doing – i.e. working in the world of international relations. I have been a big traveler my whole life and I love learning about new cultures so the international world really struck a cord with me. And if I weren’t so adverse to turbulence, I would have loved to be a flight attendant too and travel the globe!

5. What is The Urban Grocer all about?

The Urban Grocer is all about featuring the most cutting-edge, innovative foodstuffs from around the world’s hippest cities. It’s about showcasing the amazing young talent and pioneering industry players – from chefs to sommeliers to food writers – who are creating new waves of spectacular things in food from restaurants to boutiques to bars, bottles, designs, art, photography – basically, any one that is doing something really exciting and fresh in food! And it’s all tailored towards a young urban audience that is into exploring the many facets of gastronomy and creativity.

6. What led you to start The Urban Grocer Supper Club?

I had read a lot about pop-ups and supper clubs and always found it fascinating, but when we were filming The Urban Grocer television special in Buenos Aires, we went to this one closed-door restaurant called Casa Felix. It is run inside the home of a young, slow-food loving chef named Diego Felix. Spending the day with him, in his kitchen, getting a sense of his passion and love for food, and seeing that he did it all within his home and not within a formal restaurant setting, made me feel like I could do that too. I realized, I didn’t have to work on the line to cook for people or to conceptualize dinners where music, art, and design would be brought into the mix. I guess, it’s sort of like “The Little Blue House,” 2.0.

7. What’s next for Caitlin Zaino?

What I’m most looking forward to is the airing of The Urban Grocer on the Cooking Channel (premiering April 10 at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT if you’re asking!!). I can’t wait to share all of the amazing experiences we had in Buenos Aires with the Cooking Channel audience. I’d love to be able to do more of that and to explore different cities around the world, showcasing the incredible young talent that is driving a new culture of cooking. And I’ll continue to cook for my Supper Club, while also pushing forward the website. I’d love to see that grow more as well and to delve into different forms of online and offline media. So, in brief, a lot!!

Review: FoodCrafters

I finally got a little quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around FoodCrafters.

aida mollenkamp on WannabeTVchef.comFoodCrafters is what Road Tasted wanted to be.  Super sexy Aida Mollenkamp travels the country trying the best artisanal foods to be found.  This is not a profile of the partially synthetic, highly processed foods featured on shows like Unwrapped and Food Tech but rather a testament to the small business owners who chose their course not because of profitability but out of passion.

Mollenkamp, who’s stand and stir show Ask Aida always seemed stiff, is completely at ease in this vehicle.  And why not?  She is a genuine foodie – a certified chef, blogger, editor for mega food site CHOW, TV host and world traveler.  FoodCrafters is like tagging along with Mollenkamp on a road trip.  Her graceful yet hip attitude is tailor-made for for this show.

The production value on FoodCrafters is sleek, like a really well made documentary.  The food porn is among the best you will see on television.  The lighting and cinematography are as good as I have seen on a show of this nature.  It’s a great looking show.  Mollenkamp’s sultry look and modern sensibility only accentuate the quality of the production.

FoodCrafters stylish approach to it’s subject makes it far superior to the aforementioned Road Tasted.  The later always had good core content but never seemed to flow well.  Whether hosted by the Deen’s or the Neeley’s the transitions were always equal parts clumsy and corny.  FoodCrafters on the other hand is food porn at it’s best.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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