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INTERVIEW: Sam the Cooking Guy

Mike Eckel, SanDiego.com

Sam Zien is better known to some as “the cooking guy.” Women love him, and men love his food. The San Diego-based TV personality has a simple approach when it comes to creating culinary masterpieces: keep it simple.

“I specialize in easy stuff—a handful of ingredients and a few simple steps,” said Zien. “I use the line ‘big in taste and small in effort’.”

Zien never went to culinary school, nor did he ever intend to start a cooking show. The former corporate world working man quit his job in order to start a travel show. However, 9/11 happened, and he re-worked that idea into a cooking show aimed toward the everyday person. He never knew he had a knack for cooking until he started the show.

That show, called “Sam the Cooking Guy,” is now broadcast within San Diego as well as Orange County, Calif., Santa Monica, Phoenix, Tuscon, and a handful of other networks, including channels in other regions of the United States. “In my early days, the food was very simple,” he said. While he maintains that simplicity within his recipes, he says his technique and cooking skills have improved.

“Cooking is a lot like riding a bike,” he said. “The more you do it, the better you get.”

Zien recently filmed the milestone 100th episode of his show.

In addition to filming the show, Zien has published a few cookbooks. His third book, called Just Grill This, was released in February, and features his version of grilling—simple recipes anybody can recreate.

“Everybody should grill,” says Zien. “Women don’t grill enough. It’s like man’s area is out there, and the woman’s area is in here. I think more women should be grilling. And the only way you get better grilling is by grilling.”

When the cameras are off, Zien likes to cook a bit healthier for his wife and son (he has one son teenage son still at home). But, he has an unhealthy guilty food pleasure.

“I like fat,” said Zien. “You know like the fat on a side of a steak.” He cites foie gras and bone marrow as two items he likes to order at restaurants. He also calls the show “Diners, Drives-ins and Dives” one of his guilty pleasures, although “Chopped” is his favorite culinary show to watch.

Watch Sam the Cooking Guy cook in person — and eat along!—at one of his public cooking shows, held about once a month at Fixtures Living in San Diego. And, keep an eye out for him around San Diego and on television, as he’s got a few other projects, in addition to his half-hour cooking show, in the works.