Sammy Hagar on Life, Food and Music: Exclusive Interview
Sammy Hagar joined us on the phone recently to discuss a few anniversary milestones from his history -- including the first time that he met Eddie Van Halen in 1978 -- and the possibility of new music from both Chickenfoot and the Circle.. But Hagar also had some current business to promote -- Are We Having Any Fun Yet?: The Cooking & Partying Handbook -- his new book that collects a hefty batch of his favorite recipes that are strung together with colorful stories from throughout his career. It's his second book, with his autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock topping the New York Times Best Seller list.
I am not calling to tell you to expect the Brinks trucks of money, but they should be there soon.
Exactly. I’m sure you’re going to help load it. At least one dolly load, right? [Laughs]
I don’t care about the money -- I want a No. 1 freakin’ book! Somebody else can have the money, just give me that No. 1 book one more time so I can celebrate. [Laughs]
I think you should have the goods with this one. This is a great book.
You know, it was so much fun to write. My autobiography was really fun to write, too, but it was more tedious, because I was straining to remember dates and things. It took so many stories to fill a whole book, where [with this one], the recipes took a lot of space. So it was easier, because I just had a story per recipe or per person for the [people] that turned me onto the recipe or [for] one of my chef friends. It was so much fun.
I was so driven by it that I woke up in the middle of the night and I would jump up, just like practically when I was in Montrose and I first started writing songs. I’d jump up in the middle of the night with a song and I’d say, “I can’t forget this, oh my God, it’s too good!” I was doing that with the f---in’ book, man. [Laughs] At this stage in my life, I found myself up in the middle of the night jotting down notes, “Okay, I’ve got to remember this restaurant, I’ve got to remember this meal, I’ve got to remember this recipe and this story.” It was fantastic.
The fact that you’ve already written an autobiography, it was really an interesting angle to see you construct a different narrative with this book that kind of traces your evolution with food, with recipes popping in between as the book progresses.
Yeah, Josh Sens -- the guy who co-wrote it with me -- he had a lot of input to how it went from a story to a recipe. It’s what we planned, you know, don’t get me wrong. We sat down and he said, “What do you think?” Even before he was on board, I was sitting with my publishers and I was saying, “You know, I want to give a recipe, but I want to speak it in my own voice.” I don’t want to say, “Two tomatoes, seven onions and add this,” I want to say, “You get two f---in’ tomatoes,” you know, just in my own language. Everybody went for that and I said, “I’ll tell a story about every recipe and every person that I know and we’ll roll into the recipes.
But then Josh got a hold of it and he loved it and he just started laying it out and saying, “Here, I need this. I need that” and he kept coming back and getting more info and more info and just putting it all together. I just read it before I came out on this book tour, so I’d freshen up on it, because I wrote it like six months ago or so. I was sitting in the house, laughing my ass off and my wife walks in and says, “What’s so funny?” I was laughing -- it’s good! It’s a pretty unique cookbook, I think. I’ve probably read a hundred cookbooks in my life, or more and I have never read a cookbook like this, so I’m happy.
I love to cook, but I think that sometimes there are recipes that you look at them and they seem complicated, so maybe you go and choose something else instead. With your book, the easygoing way that you take the reader through preparing some of these dishes stuck out, and it feels like that really removes a lot of the intimidation that folks might otherwise feel with some of the recipes that feel a bit more complex.
Well yeah, the recipes from my restaurant in Mill Valley, El Paseo, you know, that’s a very high-end restaurant and it’s sophisticated food, so the recipes from there, they’re testy -- you’ve gotta read ‘em and study ‘em a little bit. Emeril’s recipes are extremely complex as well and Dean Fearing’s recipes are extremely complex.
But my recipes and my friends’ recipes that I put in there -- some of the chefs from my restaurants, like Cabo Wabo and the Beach Bar and Grills -- Antonio Baez’s Roast Chicken, that is the simplest freakin’ dish you’ll ever make in your life and if you just do exactly what it says, it’s a three-stepper, basically. And it’s the best f---in’ roast chicken that you’ll ever taste in your life -- I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had Jean Georges’ roast chicken, Jose Andres’ roast chicken, I’ve had Roger Verge roast a chicken for me when he was alive and this is as good as any of them.
I love the story of how your grandfather made French toast. I think we’ve all encountered that, watching somebody that we love in those early years take a lot of nothing -- spare parts, in a sense -- when it comes to leftover food and other things that are around and they make something out of it. It’s an amazing thing to see at a young age and the French toast is a good example of that, as is your mom’s recipe for beans and ham hock.
Yeah, you know, for me growing up like that, I didn’t realize that until I went out and when I got in my first band, Montrose, and went on the road. For like a year and a half, I don’t think I came home once and we had $10 a day per diem and I was broke on my ass. We weren’t getting royalties yet, we weren’t getting paid enough to be on the road. You can imagine, it was some slim pickins’, the way we were eating. For 10 bucks, I was getting some pretty rough food.
When I got home, that’s when I realized it. I ate some of my mom’s food and I just went, “Wow, my mom’s really a great cook,” and we were poor. She was probably cooking for a family of four for the same 10 bucks that I was trying to find a good meal for out in a Holiday Inn out there. So that was where the light went on that. Yeah, I came from some real good food.
My grandpa, the way his trailer smelled, that alone, the only time I ever get that close to that smell is when I walk into a deli like Molinari’s in San Francisco in North Beach. That’s been there for 100 years and when you walk in that door, I’m going, “This smells like Grandpa’s trailer, man!” [Laughs]
Dean’s chicken fried steak. Is that something I would find at Cabo Wabo?
No, you will find that probably maybe at Fearing’s, his restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas. Actually, I’m not sure that’s on that menu. He makes that for me and my wife. My wife is from Texas and my dad was from Texas. I ate chicken fried steak a lot -- my mom made a pretty damn good chicken fried steak, because my dad insisted upon having it once a week. The cool thing about it is that you use a cheap piece of steak and you beat the hell out of it. It’s almost like an abalone, you know, you’ve got to smack it down and make it edible.
But Dean Fearing just makes that for us. It’s a complex dish the way he does it -- his f---in’ flour is enough to stress you out, just trying to make the flour that he’s dipping the steak in.
I saw that in the Cabo section and I said, "You know, I wouldn’t expect to find chicken fried steak in Cabo. So if it’s there, I want to know where to find it."
No, no, it isn’t. You know, there’s actually a sandwich shop that may not be there anymore after the hurricane, because I haven’t been there to that sandwich shop since the hurricane. They used to make a pounded breaded sandwich that was just like chicken fried steak, they just put the gravy on the sandwich. It was my favorite sandwich in Cabo.
How concerned are you about the healthy aspects of a recipe when it comes to cooking?
You know what? I eat really healthy, so I don’t have concern about what I would eat, because I just don’t eat garbage or really, processed foods too much. I don’t eat foods with a lot of chemicals -- I’m a pretty natural guy -- it’s not even a thought. I don’t like those funky tastes. But as far as putting a recipe in my book that wouldn’t be healthy, like, chicken fried steak is probably not the healthiest thing you could have, but f---, if you want to eat something like that, eat it.
We’re having all of this conversation before I’ve had lunch. So looking at that and stuff like your risotto, I might just eat the entire book.
[Laughs] You know, the whole thing is that we’re calling it a cookbook -- I guess you’ve gotta call it something -- so that’s why I put a lifestyle phrase like, “Are we having any fun yet?,” because it’s really about how to live in the culinary world. My theory on writing books is that [you put] everything in there, so now you go, "What else can I do to let my fans in?" Okay, now they know how I got where I am and who I am. So then you say to them, “Well, this is how I kind of live. This is what I enjoy in life."
I love having a garden, I love going out and getting my own fruit and vegetables out of my yard and making something out of it.” It’s a big joy. I love having chickens -- I only have chickens in one house, but those chickens, I treat them like kings. They eat as good as I do! I bring all of the leftovers [to them] -- I don’t buy chicken food for these guys! Man, they are free range and they eat all of the bugs and spiders and worms and snails and stuff in the yard and they’re rockin’ in Maui and I’ve got 20 of them. Those eggs are the best eggs in the world. I’m sitting there in bed in Maui and I hear the chicken [imitates chicken sound] and I go, “Yep, got eggs!” You know, because they let you know when they lay an egg. It’s awesome!
You know, I have everything, I know what the f--- that story’s about. I can only drive one car at a time and I love all of my cars. But when I finish driving my cars, I’m sitting and thinking, "I’m going to stop by the store. I’m going to get this, I’m going to get this, because I want to make this, I want to make that. I’m going to get up to my house, I’m going to go into my wine cellar and I’m going to find that special bottle that goes with that." And man, I get real happy. Everybody out of the kitchen, you know? Kids, get out of here! I bang out a meal and it’s just like writing a song when I’m finished with it and it’s right, I go, “Alright!” So that’s what the book’s about. The book is there to teach you a little bit how to live.
What else is on deck that you’re excited about?
[Laughs] Well, I’m real excited about my book. But you know, I’d like to try to get [enough music] done for next year to where we can either go out with the Circle and the ‘Foot together and maybe get some recording done with maybe one ‘Foot song to get out in a movie or something. That song that I told you about that we have, called “Before I Die,” that’s a good title for what I’m talking about. And then maybe get a few songs out there from the Circle and then go out together. To me, that’s about it.
I mean, my spirits business, I’m always promoting my rum, because I think it’s the greatest rum in the world, but I’m also going to start making an agave product again. I don’t want to call it tequila, because it’s not exactly tequila, but it is an agave product that fits in that area, so I want to kind of expand my spirits business. If you want to know what my business thoughts are, I love the spirits industry and I try to make products that are better than everybody else’s. I mean, that’s my goal is to always have the best. If I’m in the rum business, I want to have the best rum. If I have the best tequila business, I want to be the best at tequila.
That’s why I don’t make wine, because I couldn’t make the best wine. Them f---ers, Romanee-Conti wines, Gaja, first growth bordeaux and some of them Vega Sicilia Spanish wines and so forth...I couldn’t make wine like that! I’d be like some piece of s--- out there trying to make wine compared to those guys, so I don’t bother with that. But I can make good spirits and I have good ideas and a good palette for it. That’s my business side and my pleasure is the music and that’s pretty much [it]. I don’t know if I can do much more. I might write another book someday!
I was going to ask if you’d want to do that, because you’ve got two books that are very different. You know, each of them are individually cool for their own reasons. Obviously, the autobiography is more of a standard life-story kind of thing. But what you’ve cranked out with this new book, it’s really cool.
The first one is a life-story kind of thing and this one’s a lifestyle kind of thing and what you do when you write a book is you let your fans in. That’s what I think a celebrity, an artist, or a rockstar, whatever you are, if you have a fanbase, your obligation is to your fans. If you want them to buy your book, show them something that they don’t see when they pay to see you. You know, like when they come to see you in concert and they buy your records, they don’t see what I showed them in this cookbook.
They’ve never seen that side of Sammy Hagar, so you’ve got to let ‘em in. So the next time I let ‘em in, it’s going to be probably what I believe and what I feel about spirituality and what I feel about religion and so forth and how you can enlighten yourself and how you can get better ideas, so ideas come to you. I can show you where the creative side of me comes from and how everything comes out of the ether and how you get it. I think I could present that to the fans, probably in a little shorter book, maybe, but at the same time, [it’s] valuable information that will enrich their lives and that’s all I care about is making my fans happy and enriching their lives. I don’t like to just take money from them.
As much as you travel, do you get a chance to cook on the road, or is this stuff mainly that you do when you’re home?
It’s when I’m home. It’s a bummer. Sometimes you’ll stay in a place for four or five days, because we fly, so we’ll come to Chicago, where I am now, and fly out and do a show and come back, because it’s such a cool city. But they have so many great restaurants that even if I have a kitchen in my room, I wouldn’t cook in a hotel. I might catch the place on fire, man! [Laughs] I’m a sloppy bastard in that kitchen! That’s one thing I’ve never mastered was how to contain the grease and the oil that comes popping off of things.
But yeah, I always wait until I get home. It’s one of the first things I want to do, but I’m not as good. You get in the kitchen and you kind of lose your touch after about three or four weeks [on the road]. I don’t leave home for much longer than that, but if I get back, I’m sitting there going, “Oh man, I forgot to put the damn so and so in there!” I’m at the table, sitting there tasting a dish and I go, “Oh f---, I forgot to deglaze the pan!” or “I forgot to put the onions in, holy s---!” It’s kind of silly. That’s the only drawback of not cooking for a while.
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