Had it not been for a simple Google search by media executive, Michael Smith, Canadian-born chef Roger Mooking might not have got his big break to host “Man Fire Food” on the Cooking Channel.
“When we were developing the idea for the channel, I had to put together a presentation to our board of what the potential shows might be,” said Smith, who was in Toronto last week for the 14th annual Innoversity Summit at the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon. “We wanted to get shows from around the world with diverse talent since I believed there was an opportunity to make food shows for the growing diverse audience.
“I started Googling chefs and found Roger. I grabbed a picture of him off Google and put him in the presentation as an example of people that we would have if we were to do the network. I had never met Roger before and I didn’t know who he was. It’s so gratifying that four years later, we have done two shows with him and we are going into a fourth season of ‘Man Fire Food’ with Roger. When I actually met him, I was immediately impressed with his charisma and the fact that he’s so multi-talented.”
Smith later found out he and Mooking, who is also a cookbook author and award-winning recording artist, have something in common.
He was born in Red Deer, Alberta to Jamaican immigrant parents while Trinidad & Tobago-born Mooking – who co-hosts the Food Network hit series, “Heat Seekers” – was raised in Edmonton before moving to Toronto.
Landing at Scripps Networks Interactive 16 years ago, Smith was instrumental in the rebranding of the Fine Living Network as the Cooking Channel. He oversaw the development, staffing and production of the multi-platform network that caters to avid food lovers with information and instructional cooking programming.
“I love cooking and I enjoy eating,” said Smith who spent six years in Jamaica before his family relocated to the United States when he was nine-years-old. “But I also enjoy entertainment and making great television programming that entertains, informs and inspires. Programming about food is a great category to do. One thing I have been very lucky with in my career is that I have always worked on TV programming that has been positive. I have never done sleazy reality shows.”
A Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business MBA graduate, Smith worked with CBS and Disney/ABC Cable Networks prior to joining Scripps, which actively promotes diversity.
“It has really been about the philosophy of the company which is about valuing people and the relationships we built with our consumers,” said Smith, explaining his main reason for his long association with Scripps. “It’s really more about that emotional connection than it is about the business. In entertainment, people are so focused on the bottom line. It’s great to be part of an organization where the bottom line is more about the people than money.”
Media practitioners Hamlin Grange and his wife, Cynthia Reyes, started Innoversity Summit for talented creators from diverse backgrounds to share ideas, pitch programs and do business with Canadian media executives in a collaborative and creative environment.
As part of the summit, Innoversity Angel Awards were presented to individuals who have supported the summit’s values of innovation, creativity and diversity.
This year’s recipients were Ryerson university journalism professor, Tony Burman; Bank of Nova Scotia workforce diversity manager, Kaye Leslie; University of Toronto associate professor and former CBC TV news journalist, Dr. Minelle Mahtani and husbands and wives Edward and Djanka Gadjel and Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness.
The principals of Hungry Eyes Film & Television, Sutherland and Holness wrote the epic CBC prime time series, “Guns”, which portrays the randomness of gun violence in the city. Their other credits include their breakthrough film, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, which won the Best Canadian First Feature Prize at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival and the short films, My Father’s Hands and AfricVille.
They also teamed up with documentary filmmaker, Min Sook Lee, to create “She’s the Mayor” for Vision TV and with award-winning game developer XMG Studio to release the unique mobile application, the Mu$ic Biz, which is a cutting edge mobile game app that bridges the hip-hop music world with the gaming universe.