Sam Zien is a self-procliamed "everyday guy" that has some extraordinary accomplishments. The Canadian born San Diego resident is a 14 time Emmy winning television chef, author of three cookbooks, husband and father of three. His Sam The Cooking Guy show started out as a two minute segment on local San Diego TV, grew into it's own half hour show and then went national on the Discovery Health channel. The show then evolved into The Sam Livecast, an internet based show that currently runs three times a week with almost 500 episodes to date. Baja Bound recently caught up with Sam to talk about his history with Baja, the emerging food and wine scene across the border and his new role as "foodie ambassador" for the Baja Norte Tourism Board.
Baja Bound: When was the first time you traveled down to Baja and what was the experience like?
Sam: My first experience was a TJ / Rosarito visit about 25 years ago for a family get-together. There was 10 of us and we had an outstanding time.
BB: How much different was the region when you traveled down for the Tijuana Innovadora in 2012?
Sam: The best way I can put it is that it's matured, in a really significant way. The old-school baja is still there, but now it's worked up to a whole new level - though it hasn't lost any of the casual charm.
BB: It's fair to say that Baja is experiencing a significant cultural renaissance at the moment, particularly with food and wine. What were you most surprised by on your recent trip with the Tourism Board this past January?
Sam: I guess the food difference hit me really hard. Baja is no longer the land of just burritos & fish tacos - though of course they're still there. But the food has been elevated to a level I was not expecting. And also the people, so warm and welcoming. I keep saying it, but Baja just feels way more European to me on many levels.
BB: How would you compare the food in Baja to food you have had in other parts of the world?
Sam: It has it's own distinctive style now and the fried, heavy food items I just wasn't seeing that much. Now the focus is really on fresh, local ingredients with an huge emphasis on seafood, and amazing seafood at that. Yes it's still Mexican at heart, but now food styles from all over the world are being mixed (Asian for example) and it's wonderful.
BB: How would you describe Baja to someone who has never been there?
Sam: Think of a nice mix of rural villages in a beautiful setting: some on the ocean, some in the hills and especially some in the Guadalupe Valley...all with a casual atmosphere.
BB: What are you most looking forward to on your next visit to Baja?
Sam: Of course I always want to get back for more food. But really I want more of a chance to meet more of the people. I'm continually surprised at how great everyone is down there. They're just so proud to show off what they've created in a most special part of the world.
In addition to his web series, Sam has just announced that his show will be starting to air new episodes later this year, including two episodes filmed in Baja. The new show will be airing on San Diego 4. For our friends in Baja no worries because the full episodes will also be available on his website www.SamTheCookingGuy.com.