Sittin’ down with Sam Zien


‘The Cooking Guy’ dishes about the food, show, cookbook

Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien. You know him. You love him. What’s that? You don’t know him. Well, now is a good time to get acquainted with the star of the aptly-named educational television show “Sam The Cooking Guy” on Channel 4 San Diego, and the author of “Sam The Cooking Guy: Just A Bunch Of Recipes,” which was released earlier this year.

We caught up with Zien prior to his recent book signing at Warwick’s in La Jolla. He shared his thoughts on the cookbook, bike riding, omelets and indexes.

What is the concept behind the cookbook?

The book is just like the show. There’s a little bit of everything and everything is relatively simple. It’s got appetizers, salads, chicken, seafood, food for hot weather, food for [expletive] weather, brunch. There’s no Asian theme to the whole thing or light Italian cooking. People tell me, “I can’t cook” and I say, “it’s not that you can’t…you just don’t.” Cooking is like riding a bike. The first time you rode a bike you weren’t good at it, but you kept riding and eventually you got better. You learn as you go. Anybody can do what I do. That’s what works. My goal is simple. I want to have people be able to cook. So far it’s working.

Where did the idea for the book’s title, “Just A Bunch Of Recipes,” stem from?

The title actually came during a fairly insecure moment as I was writing the book. I asked my literary agent: “Why would somebody buy my book? There are a jillion cookbooks out there.” My agent said: “Cookbooks are all the same. They’re just a bunch of recipes. What makes yours different is the way you write. The stuff you have in the book is written very much the way you speak in the show.”

What sort of audience is your book geared toward?

If you’re looking for ridiculously challenging, over-the-top ingredients, complicated steps and gourmet kinds of recipes, this is not the book for you. But if you like food that is big in taste, small in effort and want to eat well but don’t want it to take 1,000 years, this is the book for you. Everything comes from the regular supermarket. There are no hard-to-find specialty items.

What recipes in the book do you enjoy most?

There’s a section of the book called “My Favorites” and it has stuff in it like sticky sweet ribs, which I made two nights ago for the Chargers game. There’s a rice-cooker jambalaya that’s amazing in the sense that you dump everything in, stir it, walk away and it’s outstanding. There’s also a stuffing omelet which I’ve made personally four-to-five times every Thanksgiving season for the past 15 to 20 years.

What were some of the challenges associated with writing the book?

Learning how to write a book. I’m 49. The last time I had to sit down and do homework was years ago. It takes a certain discipline. It took me a good couple of months to figure out what style would work for me. I knew what recipes I wanted to do and I needed to start reading them, rewriting them, writing head notes, chapter notes, figuring out the order of the book and what made sense that way.

What projects do you have in the works and when can we expect to see them?

My second book will come out in March of 2010. The next sort of project we’re working on is the show you watch here being everywhere. It’s in six cities right now, but we’re trying to get it over the whole country and we just put out the first season [of “Sam The Cooking Guy”] on DVD (available at

What are some of your career highlights?

There are certain things that have happened in my career that get me really excited. When the draft of my book came with an index, I was like a little kid at Hanukkah. It made me crazy I was so excited. Seeing season one in a DVD box with five DVDs inside of it. Simple pleasures, you know? Moments like Discovery Channel calling - of course that’s cool, but there’s something cool about an index. Oh my God! It’s totally stupid of me, but it’s great!

‘Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes’

  • Wiley Publishing; 256 pages
  • $18.95
  • Available at Warwick’s in La Jolla,