Sam The Cooking Guy

Sam the Cooking Guy

I’m just a regular guy, using regular words showing how to cook easy, great food…food that’s "big in taste but small in effort."  A handful of ingredients and a few steps – that’s it. This is a cooking show “for the rest of us,” I like to say.

I gave a talk at Google in 2018 about how I went from being a biotech guy to a guy cooking on TV - because it’s a pretty interesting story.  Here it is if you’d like to watch it. Or if you prefer reading, you can skip past it and the story is there.  

Sam The Travel Guy?

I was a very bored Director of Operations at a biotech company in San Diego.  Ok, maybe bored isn’t strong enough - I actually hated what I did. Loved most of the people, but hated all of the job.

So I asked myself what else I’d rather be doing, and that led to an idea about starting a travel show on TV.  Encouraging people to travel to destinations they hadn’t been to, or thought they couldn’t go to for one reason or another.  Basically, “don't go to North Dakota again this summer”...try something new.  

Sam The Travel Guy?

I was going to model it after a trip I’d taken to Tokyo. I spent a week there discovering cool neighborhoods, traveling the subway, eating in little yakitori shops, and sometimes communicating only by pointing at O.P.F. (other people’s food) to be able to order. The trip was a ball, and I felt a show that encouraged people to travel afar by showing them they could have a great time in seemingly complicated places made sense. So I quit my job to become a traveling TV guy - or at least that was the plan.  

But a month before I was to leave for a demo shoot in Tokyo and Hong Kong – September 11th happened. And while it changed thousands of other people’s lives much more significantly than mine – I needed to figure out what to do. So, I decided to hang on to the TV idea, and just change the concept for the show – I would demystify something else. And the ‘something else’ turned out to be cooking – not because I was a fantastic cook (because I wasn’t)  but because I believed it needed simplification. For too long, TV chefs have tried to ‘impress’ with their food & style. But a ton of ingredients and a ton of steps just wind up with people saying they can’t cook. And it’s not that they can’t cook – it’s that they don’t because they think it’s too hard. So wasn’t it time someone made cooking easy?

And so, with no culinary training or television experience, I made a demo and sent it to a handful of industry ‘experts’ and waited for their opinion - and boy did I get them.

My First Demo

I hired a guy to shoot and edit my demo. There are so many things wrong with it (including me) it's almost comical - so watch for these:

  • The really shaky camera. I wanted the guy to shoot it handheld, but at times it looks like he was holding the camera during an earthquake
  • I rarely smile - maybe a quick one or two but generally I just look pissed off
  • Watch for his shadow on the cupboards, generally not a good thing to see the camera person's shadow
  • Out the window above the sink, you’ll see a stand holding a black curtain thing. It’s to keep unwanted light out, and you were not meant to see it
  • When I couldn't find the whisk, the guy wanted to take it out - but it felt authentic so I had him leave it in. And even though it took me about 6 months to find my TV 'voice' - that missing whisk was a glimmer of who I'd eventually become

As crappy as it was, at the time it was my own cinematic masterpiece.  So I sent it out to a handful of industry ‘experts’ and waited for their opinion. But comments like “you don’t have a @#$%+ chance,“ “you don’t know what you’re doing,” and “get a better kitchen” just pissed me off.

They were probably right, but I was still mad. So with nothing to lose, I sent the tape to a local San Diego TV station, and this time the reaction was different, and ‘Sam the Cooking Guy’ became a regular 2-minute cooking segment twice a week on a morning news show in San Diego.

My First Website

I launched my first very orange website soon after that (designed by my friend Chris Blanz, who designed this one you're looking at - we both have gotten better). And while the internet had been around for a while, the tech was still nowhere near where it is now. We had some recipes, kitchen tips, and a few interesting fashion choices - I mean wtf was up with the bare feet? But video, forget about it. I don't remember for sure, but I think we still used dial-up.

The Rise From a Small (Bad) Demo

But a year after my 2 minute segments on morning TV started, it grew to a regular half-hour show that has won 15 Emmys (that was cool) and became a national series on Discovery’s Health channel. But it  eventually went away because Oprah bought Discovery Health, turned it into the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and booted me off (not cool). I have 6 cookbooks (ok the 6th is actually out March 2024) , partner in 4 restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy, and we’re approaching 4 million subscribers on YouTube.  

Here’s the point, all of this happened because I just wanted to be happy in my job, whatever that was. And now I am.