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Sam’s culinary career started when he was just 13 when he was asked to help in the kitchen of a café that the farmer who he chopped wood for owned. At 17, he started at the Rose & Crown Hotel at Romaldkirk, where he spent three years before moving south to work at the Michelin starred Vineyard at Stockross, working under John Campbell. Sam worked there for two years, which is where he met Victor Wagman who then moved to Noma and recommended Sam join him. He became sous chef in the test kitchen at Noma, Chef Rene Redzepi’s style inspiring his own cooking. Norma is famous for its unusual ingredients including moss, ants, and bark foraged in wooded areas on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
Photographs by kind permission of Ditte Isager
Great to see you here at noma first question then how long have you been in your current role here in Copenhagen
This February, I became senior sous chef at noma. I’ve been working for Rene Redzepi for a total of 3 years now before this I was working in the development kitchen.
What are the goals for you here at noma and of course the business, how do you get better than you are?
I am still growing into my new role and learning how to lead a kitchen. At noma, we have a tremendous range of characters – over twenty different nationalities, people from all walks of life, chefs with their own restaurants volunteering their time for free to apprentices in their first kitchen positions. I feel it is important to know people on a personal level in order to understand how to motivate them best. This ‘man-management’ aspect of my role is what I really want to develop and this is clearly an excellent opportunity to do so.
For Rene, I believe his focus is on always improving how we work with food and producers. This entails finding new ingredients whilst also developing new techniques and methods of treating the terrific produce we have in this region. In the test kitchen, which drives the restaurant’s R&D, insects and bacteria have been the two key areas of research recently. We’ve achieved great results and the work here has directly led to delicious new dishes being added onto our menu. Continuously evolving what we offer in interesting and innovative ways can be challenging – least of all during the harsh winter when we have a real scarcity in terms of products – this is why having such a set up as the test kitchen, dedicated to this task, is more than useful.
If you had to describe your food style, how would you do so
‘Food style’ is something that develops and grows only after years of cooking and I am not ready to classify my own style just yet. That said, naturally I am heavily influenced by what we do at noma. This comes through in my preferences for cooking with ingredients that are local and well cared for by conscientious growers; dishes that are fun to eat whilst also thought provoking; and my dislike for over-wrought plates with over-worked produce. I want to leave a restaurant feeling that I have had an experience rather than simply a feast – and I try to achieve this in my own cuisine.
What has been your biggest learning curve since becoming part of the team at noma
Your whole kitchen career is a learning curve. As soon as you think that you know something, you learn something new that shows you how much you still have left to learn. I imagine that this is the case with every profession, but in the kitchen it really seems a never-ending process: you are learning every day.
Specifically though, there have been two periods within which I have learned most: when I first moved to The Vineyard at Stockcross; and the initial few months at noma. The Vineyard was a shock to the system – here I found out how hard you can (and you must) really push yourself in a kitchen. At noma, it was more of a gradual realisation that food wasn’t what I thought it was for the last twenty-two years of my life!
What has been your greatest success to date, and why
I consider being offered jobs at the Vineyards and at noma as my greatest successes so far. Outside of my day-to-day work, I would include doing the Loft Project in London with Nuno Mendes, where I was able to serve my own dishes to a paying audience for the first time. My next success will be being able to cook my own food in my own restaurant – something that I have dreamed about since my early teens.
What’s the biggest frustration about being the Sous Chef here at noma
Writing the menu is one of the most difficult tasks of the sous chef. Things don’t always arrive as expected and dishes have to be changed at short notice. The weather here is also rather unpredictable – it feels as if spring has started and stopped at least four times already this year. This is a constant challenge, but at least it keeps you on your toes! It also teaches you to be doubly vigilant when talking with suppliers and checking up on things. Working with Rene, you learn how to get the most out of your suppliers and how to build good relationships with them. We have some amazing farmers and foragers that we work with; most of whom possess very specialist and useful knowledge.
Sam who’s been the biggest influence on your career to date
I’ve learned a little from everyone that I’ve worked with, particularly the previous head chefs and sous chefs who have trained me. However, if I had to single out one individual, it would be Mike Elsom. He has worked as a chef for many years and helped me personally since I was only fourteen. I did my work experience whilst at school with him. He’s given me much guidance over the years and even helped me set up a stage at the Vineyard. He basically helped me up the first few rungs of the ladder, which are always the hardest to climb.
How important is having a good team to you here at noma and to the business
A good team is not just important, it is fundamental to how we work here.
In our kitchen, the length of time that people remain here and staff turnover are better than in most other restaurants and this helps build a solid foundation. Almost all of us are in the same boat, having left our homes and our countries to work here and I believe that this helps create strong connection and good energy between everyone. Furthermore, the fact our chefs serve guests side by side with the front of house helps foster a great spirit amongst all the restaurant staff – there are no divisions here.
Sam you have a great career, you’re working in the best restaurant in the world, where do you see yourself in 5-years
In five years, I will be thirty-one years old. I always thought that I would have my own place before I turned thirty. I still hope this will be happen. I also expect to return to England, but this is difficult to be certain of – to be honest, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of working anywhere. That being said, I have a Danish girlfriend, so I have to be careful what I say!!