While we at Chow Bella strive to provide you with the the best coverage of fine dining, interviews with the most sophisticated chefs in the greater Phoenix area, and recipes that will amuse even the most sophisticated bouche, we also realize that every once in a while you need a tomato and potato chip sandwich. (See the above video.)
You may have seen Sam Zien, better known as Sam the Cooking Guy. before. He's a chef -- er, guy who cooks -- from San Diego with an Emmy award winning, self-titled, nationally televised cooking show that he hosts right out of his home kitchen.
Locally he's on Cox Channel 7, and his Just Cook This! program can be found on the Discovery Health Channel. He's been featured on the Today show, (where he kindly told Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb to shut their traps,) and he cooks everything you wish you had figured out on your own.
(A Q&A with Sam and details about his local appearance this week after the jump.)
Sam's lighthearted episodes feature dishes like mashed potato tacos, pastrami benedict, and a reinvented ice cream sandwich loosely crusted with Thin Mint cookies. They also feature his dogs running in and out of the kitchen, his kids leaving things a mess in the fridge, and frequent burns to the mouth from Sam tasting his own delicious food while it's still too hot to eat. (This usually results in a phrase that must be bleeped out of the edited version of the show, with a little red circle that says "Sam" in the middle covering his mouth.)
There's also plenty of subtitled commentary worked into the final product, mocking the show's own host.
His basic philosophy revolves around the idea that anyone can cook, and that it doesn't have to be complicated. Sam swears that anyone can find success with his recipes. Once, while his home kitchen/studio was being remodeled, he did an entire episode loosely titled "Cooking Without a Kitchen Day."
Sam has a new cookbook out titled, Sam the Cooking Guy: Awesome Recipes and Kitchen Shortcuts, (as a follow up to his first Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes,) and he'll be in town tonight, Friday, June 11 at the Biltmore Borders at 7 pm to do a book signing. Not only is this exciting for all of the reasons mentioned above, but Sam is a former Phoenician. Well, Tempean. He and his family used to own a frozen yogurt store in Hayden Square, back when downtown Tempe was still full of independent businesses. He returns to the desert with his new book, and much culinary knowledge to impart on the masses. He's entertaining if you're a seasoned cook, and he's entertaining and highly informative if you're like me and you're not.
Sam was kind enough to answer some of our deep and pressing questions about his work.
NT: Tell me about your new cookbook!
SCG: I sort of feel like this book is easier than my first one. Like the first book, the recipes have only a few ingredients and just a few steps, but I'm also trying to get people to think outside the recipe -- don't look at things the same way all the time. Use something one way, then use it a totally different way next time. For example, the Mexican meatloaf is great as is the first time, but the second time make it into sloppy joes. Mashed potatoes [are] great as is, but the second time [are] amazing as mashed potato tacos.
NT: Do you cook for your own family most of the time?
SCG: I do, because I just like to cook. I'm the guy who will pretty much make anything, anytime. Spinach and goat cheese omelet? No problem. Mashed potato taco? Coming right up.
NT: Does your family taste test your new creations?
SCG: Ummm, not really. If I practice things, it's often when they're not home, and a lot of the time I make things on the show for the first time.
NT: How often do you and your family eat the dishes featured on your show? (I partially ask this as someone who is trying to lose weight, but wants to eat flavorful food. I've noticed that you and your family are pretty thin, and I've heard you say many a times, "The more fat, the more flavor!")
SCG: The reality is very seldom. I usually don't make that much and what I do make, the crew eats. But when it comes to the fat part, we try to live by the thinking that you can eat some, but don't have to eat everything. If a recipe reads "serves six," it should. Don't eat the whole damn thing yourself.
NT: What advice would you give to someone who has trouble making a pot of rice? (Not that I fall into that category or anything...)
SCG: If I was giving you advice -- I mean giving "other people" advice -- I'd say to just go out and buy a rice cooker. It's the only way to make rice. The old school way is to put rice in a pot on the stove, add water, turn on the heat, bring it to a boil, turn it down, cover it, and maybe 30 minutes later it's great. But 40 minutes later it's junk. With a rice cooker, you put in rice and water, turn it on and walk away. Thirty minutes later it's perfect, and it's still perfect 30 hours later. Just buy one.
NT: What made you decide that stripped down, no-frills cooking was the best way to go?
SCG: I watched a lot of cooking on TV and thought that instead of just making people hungry, a show could show people cooking was easy and encourage them to make some of the food.
NT: Did you go to culinary school?
SCG: You didn't just ask that, did you? Really -- isn't it obvious I didn't?
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NT: How important is the use of fresh ingredients in cooking?
SCG: Of course fresh is good, but how can I put this -- I would rather people not get too bent out of shape if they don't have something fresh. In my newest book I talk about using frozen foods, and there are lots of "not fresh" things that are still great. Shrimp, scallops, tons of vegetables etc. [I'd] rather you cook with whatever you have than not cook because some of your stuff isn't "Martha Stewart fresh," ya know?
NT: Your philosophy revolves around the idea that anyone can cook if they want to. Why is it that so many people think they can't cook?
SCG: People come up all the time and tell me they "can't cook," and I say it's not that they can't -- it's that they don't. Cooking is like riding a bike, and we all remember how our first time riding a bike went, right? It's like that with cooking. The more you cook, the more comfortable it is and the better you get.