Cláudio Cardoso, executive chef, SUSHISAMBA, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2015

Cláudio Cardoso, executive chef at London's SUSHISAMBA, has been cultivating his culinary repertoire since an early age.

Born and raised in South Africa, his first taste of cross-cultural cuisine happened in his very own home at family dinners, which often incorporated his mother’s South African favourites and his father’s Portuguese flair. The 31-year-old was a head chef by the age of 22, studied a Masters in food and has worked in restaurants all around the world including the Orient Express in Lisbon, the Sheraton Hotel in Bahrain, Midori in The Ritz-Carlton, Sintra and Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek, South Africa. He became executive chef at SUSHISAMBA, London, in 2013 and Cláudio’s interpretation of the brand’s Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian menu shines in the 80 inventive dishes available.

The Staff Canteen caught up with him on the 38th floor of Heron Tower to find out more about his experimental flavours and what drew him to London.

Sushi Samba London

Are you still influenced by flavours and ingredients from Portugal and South Africa?

Mainly it’s a mix. When people ask me what my style is or what food I do better, for me I don’t think I have a culinary style which is more prominent. I really like molecular cuisine, for me that’s my style – I like to play around with ingredients.

I obviously have  a lot of Portuguese influences but I’ve worked in many restaurants including Chinese, Lebanese, teriyaki, European, French, Moroccan – so I’ve worked with a lot of different food cultures and for me it’s just about cooking.

When you know how to cook and you have a good knowledge of ingredients, styles, and when you understand the people you are cooking for it makes it easier.

You love to travel, do you have places in mind that you would like to experience next?

Sushisamba-PASSION FRUIT CAKE green tea and white chocolate ganache, raspberry sorbet, coconut tuile, fresh raspberries, passion fruit


green tea and white chocolate

ganache, raspberry sorbet, coconut

tuile, fresh raspberries, passion fruit

There are so many, my dream was to go to Japan – I had tickets booked three times and I never managed to go because of business – Tahiti and Hawaii, they are the three locations I want to visit soon. Travelling opens your mind!

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

I always think I could have done something else, especially when I think I work 80 hour weeks, I started young and I put my childhood aside for this and sometimes I think I could have done something else – not that I’m not happy with what I do, I really am.

So ideally what would you have done?

I would just want to surf, as a professional! Just something to do with the sea – but not a fisherman!

If you love the sea what brought you to SUSHISAMMBA, in the centre of London with no beach in sight?

It’s what I miss the most from home! I’m always complaining there are no waves here and the weather sucks. But I like it here and I never expected to move to London. I was invited here when I finished my Masters when I was 20 to work at Le Manoir. I was invited because people saw me with a good future and someone who was putting good things together. When I was invited I remember saying I would never move to England and then two years ago here I am!

Sushi Samba London

I got the interview for SUSHISAMBA after a week, although I had been to a lot of other top restaurants, I chose to start here.

What was it about SUSHISAMBA that stood out from other London restaurants?

It was the project that was more challenging. Although I came from big operations I always worked for small outlets so 40/50 covers, I wanted to move to a place that does 600 covers and offered the opportunity to create. I could have gone somewhere established like The Connaught or Tom Aikens but the challenge for me was to change SUSHISAMBA into one of those places.

You said you get the opportunity to create, is the menu all down to you?

More and more the boss is realising he can trust my knowledge of food and the dishes I put together. Obviously we have signature dishes from other locations and these are standardised and make up about 50% of the menu – but the other 50% are our creations from here in London. So we have the opportunity to create and the freedom to do so which is really important. At the end of the day when we get comfortable that’s when it gets boring and we start losing that passion about what we do.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu at the moment?

Claudio Cardoso, SUSHISAMBA, London
Claudio Cardoso

There are many dishes, some of the sushi I really like but I’d say the Picanha Tataki is one of my favourites. It’s a signature dish, it’s one I created and I think it connects really well – and it’s fat!

You’ve had a specific Kobe menu, what is so special about this type of beef? Is there a real difference in flavour?

Yes there is. Kobe in regards to any other meat is very special. Obviously it has a lot of fat but it’s healthy fat. The story behind Kobe is what makes it very expensive, so the control, the quality. The way they are fed, the grains, the treatment of the cattle – they are massaged, played classical music and encouraged not to move around a lot. I sent my chefs to Japan to see one of these farms and they told me it looks like a lab, they are so clean. It’s expensive but it’s a good product.

Are you always thinking about new dishes and combinations of ingredients? 

People always say I am distracted, sometimes it’s not about being distracted – I have a thousand things going through my mind. I’m really focused on food so I squeeze all the time I have into the profession and my career – 24 hours is just not enough!

Sushisamba-robata lambchop with red miso and lime
robata lambchop with red miso and lime

My style of food has a lot of combinations and steps and the more elements the better. Obviously that works when you are doing a 30/40 cover restaurant but when you are challenged to do 600 covers you have to reduce the steps, reduce the dishes or make it simple. This is a challenge but I think it opens my mentality for other things in the future.

So, what inspires you? Where do these combinations of ingredients come from?

Inspiration for me depends on where I am and what type of food I’m doing but for me inspiration is in nature and natural elements in life. Not only that, but man-made forms and shapes.

A dish always has something behind it so an idea, history or a person for example - for me there are no rules for what you can do with food.

Being in central London, how easy is it to get the ingredients that you want?

It’s ok. In Portugal and South Africa it’s easier because you have local producers closer to the restaurants and they can bring it to your door. But in London I’ve met a lot of producers and yes, the fish takes a day longer to get here but in general you can find most of the products.

Favourite ingredients:                                         Egg (Fried)                                                            Fatty Tuna (Raw with Ponzu)                               Foie Gras (Marinated with port wine and pan fried)                                                                 Potatoes (Fried)                                                         Kobe (Tataki)                                                     Signature dishes:                                              Picanha Tataki, Foie Gras, Fried Egg, Aji Panca Corn Textures                                           Kobe, Coriander and Jalapenos Jack explosion (Jack Daniels and dark chocolate spherification)                                                           Vanilla and Cocoa Scallops with burned parsnip textures

Getting products also depends on trends so when I came here there was no suckling pig in the market, we started using it and then suddenly it’s in the market because more people are using it. Or Oblato, it’s a leaf made out of potato starch, it’s completely transparent and really cool. I use it so much and I came to London and started looking for it and nobody knew what it was. Now we’ve started using it has become more available.

You are using a lot of unique products and interesting ingredients but do you have a favourite?

I love food in general, any food and every food! I was a vegetarian for four years then my career moved in a different direction and I had to start trying everything but my plan for next year is to become vegan! I’m not a foie gras supporter but that’s one of my favourite ingredients – a future vegan saying this sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

Does that mean you think you can still create amazing dishes without using a protein?

Sure, of course! Food is what we make it, historically human beings weren’t supposed to eat meat – we were eating berries, fruit and cereals. You can make amazing things out of vegetables and people don’t explore them as much as they should. For example our summer salad, it’s a really interesting salad and has around 10-12 vegetables in it, it’s simple but it has a lot of flavour. Also our tofu quinoa dish, it’s vegan and it’s an amazing dish – it’s about looking at ingredients and finding substitutes.

Some of your dishes contain ingredients that you wouldn’t think would work but together they do. Is that what excites you?

Beef tataki with foie gras
Beef tataki with foie gras

I like to mix a lot of ingredients together and I like to play with food a lot. And the Kobe week started with that idea – I wanted to play with an ingredient that I had never had access to and seeing the connections that were possible. One of the dishes we had for Kobe week was Kobe, with walnut, vanilla and white truffle. The combination was amazing! I like to use vanilla a lot, I like to use savoury in dessert and bring desserts to main courses – it’s really fun to play around with people’s minds.

It’s important that visually it is appealing, the flavour is amazing and it smells good – it’s also important that when you are eating there is a crunch which plays around with the sounds that you hear because it’s important for you to use all your senses. And it’s always fun to add a sixth sense and play with people’s minds.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2015

Cláudio Cardoso, executive chef, SUSHISAMBA, London