We had an exclusive conversation with Sammy Hagar about what he’s been up to in the kitchen, his inspirations, and what’s been on his mind. Before the interview began, he shared that it might become a little rambunctious at his home; he’s expecting guests and his two dogs might go crazy with excitement.
The lively environment was a great start to our lively conversation. By the time we were deep into the interview, you might not have realized that this was a rockstar we were talking to. He spoke with the fervor and expertise of a professional chef, and the compassion of a philanthropist.
The Many Layers of Sammy Hagar
Sammy Hagar is a rockstar, a food enthusiast, the owner of multiple restaurants, and he’s heavily involved in grassroots charities.
With every Sammy Hagar meal kit you purchase through Chef’d, a portion of those proceeds goes directly to the charity Food Pantry/LAX, an emergency food resource for low-income residents of Los Angeles, California.
"When I start new businesses, like when Chef’d came to me with these meal kits, I saw it as another way to be able to help people. That’s the idea of any business I do now. It’s not about making money, it’s about helping more people," Sammy said.
We asked when he started cooking, and we learned that Sammy's love for food blossomed at a young age, with thanks to his familial roots.
"I feel really fortunate that my grandfather was a chef and a Renaissance man. He was a real old-timer from Italy, and my mom was influenced by that. We grew up that way. I grew up being poor, so we had to have a garden. We always had fresh, homegrown ingredients. We didn’t have candy or ice cream. If we had sweets it was because my mom made a cake or made a pie. And it was always from scratch."
Sammy Hagar and his family didn’t have much money. They had to live off of the land. His mother kept a garden of fresh vegetables and herbs, and his grandfather would fish and hunt, using all of the parts of the animal.
His grandfather was actually a bit of a culinary Robinhood. He would pull risky maneuvers and wiggle around rules. It’s pretty rock ‘n roll if you think about it.
"My grandfather taught me how to go fishing, how to clean a fish, how to clean a pheasant, a duck, you know. Hunting, fishing, and his garden were his ways of life. I learned so much from him, and from my mom too,” Sammy said. “Skills like that are valuable. It’s something special to pass on to your own children, to generations to come. It will always be priceless knowledge, to be able to do all of that, to live off of the land in that way," Sammy said.
The First Meal Sammy Ever Made was a Pizza.
—And it was good.
Sammy came home from school and did what most kids do when they first come home from school: He opened up the refrigerator. What he saw were many cans of biscuits and a jar of marinara sauce. A glint of genius was ignited.
“We had those canned biscuits that come in packages, the kind that you bang on the counter to open and they do that explosion thing and make that pop sound. They were on sale so my mom had about ten packs of those in the refrigerator. So I decided that I was going to take those biscuits, and I was going to flatten them out, roll them, and make a pizza.”
Sammy was ten-years-old. His older brother, who was a few years older, was astounded.
“We always had spaghetti sauce in the refrigerator and I poured it on the dough. And I took some parmesan cheese, the kind that comes in the green container, and I poured that on there. And I put it all in the oven and I baked it,” Sammy said. “The pizza was to die for. My brother and I made that pizza for the next couple of years. It was our go-to snack. And pretty soon we got hip to putting better cheese on it.”
For a brief couple of seconds, Sammy took a pause and he let out a small, breathy laugh. It was as if he was remembering it all over again. It as if we were there with him in that kitchen all those years ago.
“That was my first spark of cooking creativity. I was very proud of that moment. And my brother who would usually pick on me, well, I blew his mind with that pizza. He would say, ‘Hey Sammy, go make me some more of that pizza.’ It was pretty cool,” Sammy said.
Writing Music and Cooking Meals are Similar Creative Arts
We wondered if Sammy felt the same creative energies in the kitchen as he does when he’s making music. The answer? Yes.
"I’ve learned to cook from scratch. You know, just open up the cupboards and not even have anything in mind; open up the refrigerator, look in the freezer, and then, you get inspired by an ingredient. And as you’re cooking, you get further inspired. You think, ‘Oh! This would be great with this,’ and so on. It’s just like writing a song. You will think, ‘Oh! This song needs a sax. This recipe needs paprika.’ It’s really, exactly the same creative energies at work."
It’s like a jam session in the kitchen.
"I definitely love the farm-to-table movement. Local, fresh food is the best food on the planet. There’s no way to get around that. You can have a great chef and give him bad ingredients and all he can do it make a mediocre meal. You can give a mediocre chef fresh ingredients, and he will make a great meal," Sammy said.
Sammy is not the type of person to choose a bag of chips over a fresh ingredient. Even when he went on tour, he made it a priority to eat at the best places. And when he’s back home, he's making moves in the kitchen.
"I think the food movement has enlightened the public so that people can cook for themselves now. That’s going to lead to healthier eating,” Sammy said. “That’s the food trend that I would like to see take spotlight: People eating healthier, especially kids."
Healthy eating often has to start at the home. Cooking as a family is one of the best ways to teach best practices, from parent to child.
The Best Meal Sammy Ever had was Homemade
Sammy has eaten at extraordinary restaurants all over the world. When he was on tour, he would call up a friend, like Shep Gordon, and ask him where he should eat that day.
Regardless of the incredible meals he’s experienced, Sammy’s favorite meal is one that his grandfather made back when Sammy was 9-years-old.
He spent that summer in Klamath, California fishing with his grandfather.
"We would come back with these salmon... My grandpa had this big, giant grill. It wasn’t like a barbecue, but it was his own, with homemade bricks around the side and a piece of wire chain link fence stretched across the top. The first time I saw him do it, he threw that whole salmon on there, rubbed it up with herbs, and blackened it. He had a pot where he boiled the butter until it was dark and he splashed it on right over the fire and it threw flames up and wow that was the best fish I had in my whole life," Sammy said.
Sammy says that he’s not usually crazy about fish. Fish might not the first thing he would order off of a menu. But the memories of that meal with his grandpa, the freshness of catching his own fare and grilling it in such a style, added to the delicious quality of that particular meal.
Sammy’s Restaurants and Meal Kits Donate to Charities
It’s not uncommon for celebrities to write a large check for charities. But Sammy goes beyond just writing checks.
"My restaurants are a consistent source of giving back. It’s really important. Charities rely on consistency otherwise they go out of business. When I license my name, like Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill, I always give my portion away. With all of the charities I work with I tell them that we’re going to do at least a one year program and every quarter I will give them x amount of dollars, and they can count on that. And that really helps them to budget and stay in business."
Sammy digs into that intersection between life and food.
"Food is what makes life. Literally, without food, you die. And without proper food, you can get sick. So when I see people in need, it breaks my heart. I try to think about what the best thing is that I can do for them. The answer: You can feed them. There are people who are struggling, there are people who are hungry, and there are people who are poor; you can feed them. That’s the thing to do."
And that’s what he’s doing. All of Sammy’s meal kits are linked with a local charity. So when you purchase one of his meals, you know that purchase is going to help someone.
Invite your family to pick out a meal with you and when that kit arrives, enjoy the time you spend cooking together. Like Sammy said, cooking skills are valuable traits to pass on. And if we learned anything from this time with Sammy Hagar, it’s that food is life, and food-related memories will make those moments of life even more special.