Sam Clark says her mentors at the River Café were literally her alma maters, giving her the building blocks of great food and the skills to do her own thing
Rose and Ruthie taught me how to run a restaurant with calmness and respect
In 1993, I met my future husband and business partner Samuel Clark while cooking at The Eagle pub on Farringdon Road, London – my first chef job. It was a great start, but I was eager to learn. Sam helped me get a trial at the River Café, where he had worked before. Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray were, literally, my “alma maters”: inspirational, nourishing mother figures who guided me throughout. I loved every minute. I had studied Italian and lived in Italy for two years, so cooking River Café food felt natural.
It was a steep learning curve going from River Café novice to running shifts in six months, during which the philosophy of good ingredients, seasonality and regionality got into my blood (and later became the building blocks behind Moro – I just adapted the principles to Spain, north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean).
Two women at the helm of a restaurant was a rare and special thing, and I felt blessed to be in the right place at the right time. Rose and Ruthie taught me how to run a restaurant with calmness, respect and intelligence. There was no old-school macho shouting or aggressiveness, just pure focus on the quality of the ingredients, flavour and a sense of pride.
I still remember Rose teaching me how to make this Tuscan summer ribollita, building up the layers of vegetables, then borlotti beans, chard, basil and bread, and to finish, copious amounts of Capezzana extra virgin olive oil – a thick, syrupy green nectar with a peppery finish.
Rose and Ruthie’s love of people and family always meant a varied and bright team, some of whom are still great friends. I had the privilege of cooking with many wonderful chefs: Lucy Boyd, Rose’s daughter, Theo Randall, Jamie Oliver, Allegra McEvedy and Jane Baxter. These were the alumni just from my short stint at the River Café, but it seems that it never ceases to produce extraordinarily talented chefs. The training at the River Café is second to none and I often encourage my chefs to work there when they want to move on. I left in the autumn of 1996, but would have stayed much longer if it hadn’t been for the fact we were already setting up Moro, which opened the following April, in 1997. Moro owes a lot to Rose and Ruthie and the River Café – and my husband Sam is just as proud of it as I am.
300g borlotti beans, preferably fresh (or dried ones soaked overnight) 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a generous glug at the end
2 medium red onions, finely diced 1 head of celery, finely diced (keep the bright yellow leaves aside)
1 medium carrot, finely diced 600g swiss chard: stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh 1.5kg sweet cherry or heirloom tomatoes, blanched, peeled
2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 handful fresh oregano or marjoram, finely chopped
2 handfuls basil, roughly chopped
1 loaf of stale Italian ciabatta, crusts off – enough to cover the pot in one even layer when sliced about 1cm thick
1 Rinse the beans, then transfer to a pot and just cover with water. Add half as much water again. Bring to the boil, then gently simmer until tender, but not mushy. Season and set aside.
2 Warm the olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add the onion, celery, carrot, chard (stalks only), garlic, chilli and bay leaves. Season generously, then fry for 20 minutes, stirring every so often, until lightly caramelised.
3 Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes in half and discard the seeds. Squeeze over a bowl to release the juice. Set aside.
4 Add the parsley and oregano (or marjoram), basil and celery leaves, then fry for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, and break them up with a spoon. Cook for about 20 minutes over a low heat. The tomato liquid should be absorbed by the other vegetables. Add the beans and their cooking liquid. Simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the soup comes together. Stir in the chard leaves and simmer for a couple more minutes. Adjust the seasoning.
5 Cover the soup with bread. Pour just enough boiling water over it all to moisten the bread. Generously drizzle with oil and remove the pot from the heat. Set aside for 10 minutes, then stir to combine. It should be thick and delicious. Season again, if needed. Drizzle with oil, then serve.