Though he was born Jahphet Landis,Roofeeo got his name when he was 21. This was back in the mid-aughts, a period he had largely spent away from his hometown in Brooklyn. His peripatetic lifestyle, Roofeeo’s friends thought, called for a nickname that befit this constant shuffle. One night, when he met his friends at a bar in the Lower East Side, they greeted him with an odd, exuberant chant: The lost boy returns! Roofeeo, Roofeeo, Roo-fee-oh!
They were referencing, cheekily, a character named Rufio in Hook, the 1991 Steven Spielberg film based on the story of Peter Pan. Rufio was the leader of the Lost Boys, a gaggle of ruffians stuck in arrested development. Roofeeo embraced the nickname, because he agreed: He was something of a lost boy himself.
During that period, Roofeeo, today best known as the drummer for indie art-rock band TV on the Radio, was living in an apartment far from his family. Living alone imposed a rather grueling sanction: He had to cook for himself. This circumstance summoned memories of growing up in his Panamanian family’s kitchen in Brooklyn, where he ate what he describes to me as quintessentially Caribbean dishes: mashed green banana with codfish stewed in yellow onions, or coconut rice and peas alongside an array of burly proteins like oxtail or chicken.
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While living on his own, Roofeeo began seeking out the knowledge of his family members—his mother and aunt, his cousin Dorian—whose cooking he depended on for years. He would ask them to tell him their secrets. “I did it to be able to keep a very important part of my culture alive, to be able to pass this gift down to the generations after me,” he insists of this curiosity. “And to save money on food.” During this process, he discovered they cooked from intuition rather than instruction, with a reliance on sight, feeling, and taste.
Roofeeo has since cultivated his culinary expertise parallel to his musical talent. He finds that cooking and music are spiritually similar arts. Both ask him to be attuned to timing and tempo. Some dishes require fast, high heat; others need to be cooked slow and low. Cooking also allows him to engage his improvisational skills: when it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right in a dish, he can make quick, intuitive decisions that will dictate the outcome of the meal. But he finds that cooking offers creative possibilities that music can’t, activating a greater number of senses than what he experiences on stage.
Roaming across the country with his band has allowed Roofeeo to perfect his own philosophy of culinary self-care, one that hinges on moderation: pairing greasy, starchy dishes with raw, fresh ones. For this very reason, the forthcoming Local Roots NYCGood Festival has pegged him as an “influencer.” Local Roots NYC's mission is to connect New Yorkers to sustainable produce through a network of 25 subscription-based produce markets. It has fashioned its conference as an extension of its greater objective to deepen people's understanding of the relationship of what they put in their bodies to a farm's soil health. The conference is structured as a series of workshops around how home cooks can thread more mindful cooking practices into their everyday lives, even when they find themselves crunched for time.
Cooking in the midst of a chaotic, unsettled schedule is a reality that Roofeeo has grown to know intimately as he's toured the country with his band. He’s begun to lean, recently, on a particular dish that achieves the perfect harmony he aspires to: It's a grilled chimichurri-marinated skirt steak that he usually eats alongside a plate of tostones and a purple kale salad with maple syrup, Gala apples, and toasted pecans. He first made this skirt steak a few years back when he got his first charcoal grill, and he found it carries notes of the “Latin street food vibe” he has cherished since childhood.
The dish exists at the midpoint between pleasure and nourishment; it buoys him, regardless of whether he's on the road or at home. “There’s almost always a friend catching a vibe at my place,” he tells me when I ask who he cooks this dish for, and what brings him back to it. “I almost never cook for just myself.”
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.
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