When Sam met Sam

When Sam met Sam

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
When Sam met Sam They shared mutual interests. Their passion was cooking and in particular, they favored Mediterranean cooking. They were quite obsessed with Moorish culture. They loved Spain, Morocco and the Maghreb. They truly enjoyed the sun-matured tastes of Mediterranean food, which was quite exotic to the British palate in the 1990’s. The moment they met, their destiny was bound together almost instantly. They had one more thing in common: They shared the same name. Their close friends and relatives called them both Sam; if that was not enough, they had the same surname. Even their birthdays were almost identical: One was on September 21st, the other September 22nd (though not in the same year). There surely was something magical in the crossing of their paths. They both started to work as cooks at the famous Eagle, the first gastropub in London. This is how Samuel Clark and Samantha Clark met. What happened next? They married and cooked happily ever after… 

Not that simple, of course. After getting married, they hired a van and set out on a three-month journey through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara. They had already decided on opening their own place, just a few steps from where they both worked. Meanwhile, their future restaurant was practically a hole in the ground at London’s Exmouth Market. Their partners had it built while they were away, and on their way back home the restaurant was ready to be opened. Inevitably, with the strong western Mediterranean and Moorish influence in their kitchen, the name of the restaurant was chosen accordingly: Moro. This is how the story of Moro begins.

The restaurant instantly attracted the interest of the young and thirsty palates of the London crowd, ready to explore new tastes. In 1997, the year they opened, they received the Best New Restaurant Award of Time Out Magazine and the BBC Good Food Award. Eventually they bought out their partner’s shares and became a family establishment. And a big family they had: Luke & Eve; and after a long break, Ivo joined the family. As the kids grew, Sam and Sam had several books published in a row: the Moro Cookbook, Casa Moro and Moro East, followed by another restaurant, Morito, a smaller establishment opened next door, with its own self-named cookbook.

Sam and Sam go from West to East

It was Moro East that hinted clues to Moro’s new inclinations. The book had recipes from their East Londoner neighbors of the Manor Gardens allotments in Hackney. It was a close-knit community of Turkish, Kurdish, Cypriot and British neighbors, tending their allotments for decades. It was from them they also procured fresh greens and vegetables for Moro. These 100-year old gardens were later brutally bulldozed to make space for the so-called “Green” 2012 London Olympics. 

Cooking and eating with their Eastern Mediterranean/East Londoner neighbors in their Hackney allotment site made Sam and Sam more aware of the Eastern Mediterranean food territory. They also became more interested in the food and cookery of Turkey. Actually I may have had a pinch of salt in this influence, as we say in Turkish. 

I had met Sam (the husband) years ago at the book launching reception of Charles Campion. It must have been 2007. Soon after, I got a message from Sam asking for tips for a road trip he was planning in Turkey. With many contacts and a list of must-east foods and places to visit in his pocket, he disappeared into the roads of Anatolia, all the way to Aleppo. Months later, he wrote me these wonderful words: “Dear Aylin, I am back from my travels, and if I arrived a fan of Turkish food and culture, I left a fanatic. I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful advice and contacts. Sam and I cooked for 12 chefs last night, enthusing about all I had learnt, telling stories and showing photographs. It was a truly great time for me. The monuments, castles and mosques of course were amazing, but what moved me the most and will stay with me forever, is Turkey’s people. You are very responsible for my extreme enjoyment of the trip.”

I could not be happier. Since then, we kept in touch. I always visited Moro to enjoy their lovely food every year when I stopped in London en route to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Sometimes I carried along some local ingredients I thought they’d like. Two years ago, we had Sam as a presenter at the Gastro Istanbul event that proved to be useful in brushing up his Istanbul memories.

Recently, I received another message saying that they are coming with five Moro and Morito’s chefs. For their same dates, I received a message from the U.S., from a relative of mine, who happened to have rented his Kuzguncuk timber house to some chefs, asking me for suggestions to give them. Of course, those chefs happened to be the amazing Moro team. However this time, it turned out to be too brief. They did manage to squeeze in visits to various parts of Istanbul, from Fatih to Kadıköy, and Karaköy to Beşiktaş exploring the tastes of Istanbul. They even had a baklava workshop and tasting menu-demo at MSA-Culinary Arts Academy. On their way back to London, Sam (the wife) spilled the good news to me: They’re soon about to open a new branch of Moro in Hackney and following this, they plan to establish a kebab place of their own… Well the Moors did come from the East, didn’t they? It was inevitable to follow the path of history and return to the territory of the Eastern Mediterranean for Sam and Sam. Just as they were they were destined for each other, their fate was to go East from the  West.