How Sammy Hagar Does Breakfast
“Mario Batali taught me to use white pepper”
Sammy Hagar is known as much for his role as the lead singer for Van Halen as he is for the song “I Can’t Drive 55.” He is often called The Red Rocker for his trademark curly locks. Currently the lead singer of Chickenfoot, Hagar has found success with the Cabo Wabo Tequila line, a restaurant group, and Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. The cover of his Are We Having Fun Yet? cookbook seems to illustrate that he’s a guy who digs food, since he is smiling and juggling fruit and booze—ever the showman. Hagar counts many celebrity chefs as pals, and told me that Emeril Lagasse cooked at his wedding to wife Kari Karte, in 1995. He also said that he may be interested in doing a cookbook with his chef pals that include Mario Batali, Jose Andres, Michael Mina, and Julian Serrano.
When I met with the Hagars recently at El Paseo, in Mill Valley, CA, it was obvious that one of his current favorite breakfast foods is bacon that has been smoked with hickory, chicory, coffee, sugar, and salt by his friend Sean Boyd, who runs Red Whale Coffee. Hagar is obsessed with making BLTs with this bacon and tomatoes from Kari’s garden. I later received email confirmation from Sammy that “Sean Boyd has a coffee store right around the corner from my recording studio. He's a big fan and started bringing me coffee. We've been friends a long time but I also love Equator Coffee—they both do a great job. Shawn is just really small and has one store and roaster.” One part of the Van Halen song “Up for Breakfast” that Hagar sings mentions a woman putting cream in Sammy’s coffee. In real life, he sticks to black coffee.
Extra Crispy: What’s your morning routine?
Sammy Hagar: I’ll have a cup of black coffee and maybe a sweet roll or biscotti. That’s my breakfast when I first wake up. Then around 10:30 or 11, I eat brunch. I’m a brunch guy. Lately I’ve been eating BLTs with homegrown tomatoes that my wife Kari grows. I use olive oil and serve them open faced on sourdough. With bacon. I fry two eggs in the grease from the bacon, and strain the egg out of the grease before serving. I make these for my daughter, Samantha.
I always use white pepper on eggs and like them soft on the inside. Mario Batali taught me to use white pepper. If I don’t use bacon, I’ll go with a slice of bacon or cheese.
When we were in Spain, all of the breakfast buffets in the hotels had fresh tomatoes with a bottle of olive oil and pepper. So now I’m in the habit of eating that.
You have a thing for paella, which is a new and popular Sunday supper fixture at El Paseo. How and why do you use paella for breakfast?
Whenever I have paella, the next morning, I use medium heat to get the paella going. I add some olive oil and then shake it, so that there will be that nice crust on the bottom. You need the crust. I crack two eggs over the paella and put a lid on the pan. Then wait ‘til it’s opaque. I add white pepper and salt, then serve that with a piece of toast and black coffee. With toast, it needs a bit of a burn to it.
[Ed. note: Hagar and chef Tyler Florence started working together in 2011 on El Paseo in Mill Valley to revive a popular steakhouse. When Florence moved on, chef Henry Cortez received a promotion and continued working to make El Paseo a spot that incorporates Spanish touches to a menu that is now heavy on California produce. To keep things in the restaurant family, chef Cortez also consulted with Tacho Kneeland, who is a Mexico City native and Executive chef of the Las Vegas outpost of Cabo Wabo Cantina. When paella is served on Sunday nights, Hagar walks around, enthusiastically talking to customers that may include notable chefs like Joseph Manzare and pals from bands such as Green Day. When they are in town, the Hagars can be found at El Paseo two or three times a week.]
What do you order for breakfast on the road?
Are you trying to depress me? [Laughs] I like simple food. In a hotel, I will order black coffee, a bread basket, and some Applewood smoked bacon or sausage.
What do you eat when you visit Hawaii?
A big fruit breakfast, with bananas, pineapple, and papaya with lime. Our daughter loves guava. After the fruit breakfast, then I’m hungry twenty minutes later and have brunch!
What did you eat growing up as a kid?
I loved Cheerios. Even straight out of the box. If there’s no milk, I’d have ‘em with orange juice. They don’t need any sugar. I’m not much of a cereal guy, but Cheerios remind me of white burgundy wine—if I try some Montrachet, it’s déjà vu for me and there I am, back to Cheerios.
If you could eat breakfast with anyone, who would it be?
Elvis! Each day, his breakfast was a pound of bacon, loaf of bread, and a dozen eggs. He may not have eaten all of that, but that’s what was made for him.