Sam Clark and his wife, Samantha, opened Moro on Exmouth Market, London, in 1997, inspired by a three-month road trip to Spain and Morocco in a camper van. They also run Morito, a tapas bar, and this month they celebrate Moro’s 15th birthday.
Do you have your own Proust’s Madeleine – a food that instantly brings back memories?
My mother worked backstage at the ballet, and she was out a lot in the evenings, so I didn’t get much home-cooked food. I was a child of the 1970s – I ate things like Findus crispy pancakes and got independence from cooking quite young. I’ve never been a food snob – a fish finger fried in butter can be delicious.
Why did you become a chef?
I wasn’t good at anything else. I was not particularly sporty or arty, but I could cook. I had babysitters from all over the world, and I learnt from them. It was the time of TV chefs like Ken Hom, and I took trips to Chinatown, with his cookbook under my arm – a nine-year-old could buy rice wine back then.
What are your abiding memories of Moro’s opening year?
We were excited, nervous, but confident that we were doing something different. Our only ambition was to be able to cook the food we wanted to cook. In Marrakech, we learnt how to make warka pastry – and we used it for a brik on the first menu. Traditionally it would have chicken, almonds and orange blossom water; we invented a version with crab, lemon juice and harissa. We worked day and night, and then very quickly the restaurant started to be full.
What was your most hated chore as a trainee?
I’m still not very good at cleaning – scrubbing every inch of a kitchen when you’re exhausted after an intense service – it was never very rewarding!
Do you believe in the maxim, “never trust a thin chef”?
We have to be a little bit careful, but it’s an age thing. I adore carbs, and I’m surrounded by the most delicious carbs at the restaurant. I love taking flatbread and rolling it up with chips and garlic mayonnaise.
What do you see 15 years from now?
I see my dad, who’s a painter and is 82 – he has just done a show. His work has abandon and freedom; he doesn’t give a damn and he’s doing such a good job. I’ll keep on cooking, with slightly wilder strokes…
What would you choose for your last meal?
Well, I’m very of the moment. Right now I’m in Puglia, and I’m going to eat knobbly old cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden, with anchovies and olive oil, marjoram, chillies. That combination of heat and salt is pretty hard to beat.
Sam and Sam Clark are cooking the original menu from Moro’s 1997 opening day from July 23 to August 12 at Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1, 020 7833 8336; www.moro.co.uk
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