The room buzzed as Fresh Starts Chef Events opened a “pop-up party” with rock star-restaurateur Sammy Hagar and Chef Henry Cortez of El Paseo in Mill Valley – even before the Red Rocker himself appeared to mix a Rumrita cocktail.
A Mill Valley resident for years, the rocker has been a longtime supporter of Homeward Bound of Marin, the nonprofit that benefits from the chef event series. The venerable El Paseo restaurant has come back to life with his backing.
While Chef Henry prepared for his first demonstration, Sammy introduced the Rumrita, which uses Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Made from Maui Gold sugar cane, distilled and filtered only one time, the smooth white rum is, Sammy says, “truly the spirit of aloha.”
He described Chef Henry as “the only chef I’ve ever met who doesn’t want to be a superstar” – a man who likes being at the stove. So Sammy did what he does well, entertaining guests with anecdotes of rock’n’roll, restaurants and building his rum and tequila brands.
Of all these pursuits, Sammy says, the restaurant business is most difficult. But the man is serious about food.
Sammy’s “favorite food countries” are Italy and Spain. With Chef Henry, he’s bringing a Spanish flair to El Paseo, and the evening’s first dish, Shrimp in Sofrito, was an excellent example.
Sofrito, a base often used in Spanish and Italian cooking, is not difficult, but takes up to three hours as onions, red peppers, celery and tomatoes caramelize slowly. Chef Henry set his shrimp atop the sofrito with crispy chorizo and chorizo aioli for garnishes.
The main course of Steak Frites featured melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly cooked Akaushi Wagyu beef, accompanied by Chef Henry’s roasted red onions and chimichurri flavored with smoky sweet pimentón de la Vera. He stresses that the meat needs to be slightly undercooked and left to rest for seven to ten minutes before slicing.
Chef Henry, who has pursued a culinary career since high school, says, “for me, it’s all about technique.” His dedication has drawn a loyal clientele for El Paseo, where Sammy says of his talents, “He blows my mind.”
Housemade Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake with a hint of rum wrapped up the menu. The recipe came from Chef Eric Magnani, executive chef for Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, whose students and graduates staffed the kitchen and served guests.
Guests also heard from winemaker Bob Cabral of Three Sticks Wines, invited by Sammy Hagar to offer two new releases for the event. The maker of the first-ever 100-point Pinot Noir, Cabral talked about his history in the business and Three Sticks’ array of select vineyards.
Diners also enjoyed beverages from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events, and picked up signed copies of Sammy Hagar’s book, “Are We Having Fun Yet? The Cooking and Partying Handbook.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Basic Sofrito – Makes 5 cups
2 yellow onions, diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 red peppers, diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, pelled and diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 tomatoes, peeled and crushed
12 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon saffron threads
Place all the ingredients in a pan and cover with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
Place the pan over medium-low heat for 3 hours, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan every 7 to 10 minutes.
Continue cooking until most of the water from the vegetables has evaporated and the oil has become a clear red color. Set aside and cool.