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

The Guardian - Cook - - Feature - Sam Clark is co-chef pro­pri­etor of Moro restau­rant in Lon­don; @restau­rant­moro

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.

Sum­mer ri­bol­lita

Serves 6

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.

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