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An Interview With Claudio Cardoso, SUSHISAMBA's Executive Chef
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An Interview With Claudio Cardoso, SUSHISAMBA's Executive Chef

Picture of Isabelle Pitman
Updated: 24 November 2016
With a unique blend of flavours from Japan, Peru and Brazil, and unparalleled views from the 39th floor of the Heron Tower, SUSHISAMBA is London’s most famous sushi restaurant. Since its inception in New York in 1999, the restaurant’s kobe beef, seviche and Sake have achieved world-class status. Meet the London Head Chef, Claudio, as we talk about his progressive menu and what SUSHISAMBA has got in store for us next.
Claudio Cardoso | © Ming Tang-Evans
Claudio Cardoso | © Ming Tang-Evans

When and why did you first start cooking? Were you always aware that you’d follow this path for your career?

I can recall many early memories of being in a kitchen or surrounded by food. Back then, I was involved in many different areas, including a lot of sport; however, part of me always knew that cookery would definitely be my path.

Where did you do your training?

I studied in Portugal, but I have trained in many different countries and hotels all around the world.

Whilst you are the Executive Chef of a restaurant highly influenced by Japanese cuisine, you also come from a South African and Portuguese background. How important is a cross-cultural tradition to you, and to your food?

I consider myself to be a citizen of the world. I see food as an historical and multicultural signature of our planet, so if I was to say that I’m influenced by one or two food cultures, it wouldn’t be truthful to my beliefs. Influences come from the people we encounter in our travels and their traditions; history tells us exactly what the flavour profiles of each individual country are.

SUSHISAMBA's Yellowtail Tiradito | © Ming Tang-Evans
SUSHISAMBA’s Yellowtail Tiradito | © Ming Tang-Evans

How has your style influenced SUSHISAMBA’s menu?

Understanding what people need and demand in regards to their expectation of food in a particular place or restaurant helps you to put together certain dishes. It helps you to create your own image and vision of food that is adapted to each location you are in. My style is very aggressive and progressive, but the large amount of covers that we do at SUSHISAMBA enables us to explore and make food as extreme as I would like. I think we manage to put it together quite nicely.

Why did you decide to learn to master Japanese cuisine?

I was 23 when I decided to join the Japanese team of Midori and I was given the opportunity to lead a kitchen at a very young age. This was a major step and exceeded my own expectations. I’m very demanding and critical of myself; however, managing a cuisine that is so precise and working with a technique that is so clean and so product driven was a fantastic way for me to evolve and become a more rounded chef. Japanese cuisine is a daily attempt of achieving perfection, every young chef should go through it.

Where do you find the inspiration to create new dishes for your eclectic menus?

Mainly in nature, its natural forms, shapes, smells and everything it has to offer to us. It’s all about looking even when you don’t want to find something.

SUSHISAMBA | © Ming Tang-Evans
SUSHISAMBA | © Ming Tang-Evans

Is there a specific dish you can recall from your childhood which has influenced you?

I have always loved food and I have always tried many different products, so it’s difficult to specify one particular dish that has influenced me in the kitchen. Bread is an element that I respect a lot, along with grapes, wine; but a particular dish is a very difficult one to answer.

You have travelled a lot, how has this influenced your cooking? If you could take a culinary tour across one country, where would it be?

Travelling is definitely one of the influences of my work. There are so many countries where I would like to explore every single corner, but if I had to pick one, it would be Japan. There’s still so much to learn about it’s beautiful food history.

SUSHISAMBA's Passionfruit Cake | © Ming Tang-Evans
SUSHISAMBA’s Passionfruit Cake | © Ming Tang-Evans

You were part of the driving force to establish SUSHISAMBA in London. Why did you feel London needed a SUSHISAMBA? And where will SUSHISAMBA head next?

SUSHISAMBA is different from any restaurant in town. The atmosphere, the vibe, and the fact that it is kind of loud makes it truly special. You feel like you are constantly in a festive mood. SUSHISAMBA will soon be in opening in other locations, so watch this space!

Do you have a signature dish on your menu which are particularly proud of? Which Sake would you pair it with?

I’m always happy if I’m creating – that’s what I love the most about this profession. The sensation of coming up with something new excites me. Fortunately for us, our Sake selection is so wide that there is a match for most of our dishes. Sake is very versatile in that way. I would pick our Kobe Tiradito, which would match nicely with one of my favourite Sakes, the Happo Nigori. It kind of works almost like a sparkling wine and it makes every single bite of your food feel like it was actually the first.

SUSHISAMBA's Kobe Nigiri | © Ming Tang-Evans
SUSHISAMBA’s Kobe Nigiri | © Ming Tang-Evans

Your dishes are beautifully designed. How important are the techniques used and the design of the plate to the culinary experience?

For me, after the logic behind the creation and the way it tastes, is the presentation and the practicality of it all. From an early age I loved art and was very much involved in art, so I plate dishes with an artistic influence very easily.

Do you have any particular influences or role models who you aspire to?

My parents, my partner, my team, the people close to me, people that believe in my work, and everyone that has influenced my life in a positive way.

What is your proudest moment as a chef thus far?

Every moment for me has been important as experience is what builds us up. I always believe that there’s something bigger to come my way and that there will be more moments to be proud and excited about. Success is not something we should content ourselves with; being proud is great, but continuing to strive and achieve is much better.

SUSHISAMBA's Seabass Tempura | © Ming Tang-Evans
SUSHISAMBA’s Seabass Tempura | © Ming Tang-Evans

When you’re not eating at Sushisamba, where is your go to restaurant in London?

Fera at the Claridges and Taberna do Mercado.

If you could sit down and have a meal with one chef in the world, who would that be?

Grant Achatz

What’s the best kept secret of London?

INK Restaurant

Henry Miller penned 11 work schedule commandments in his book, Henry Miller on Writing. Number 7 is ‘Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it’. Do you adhere to a particular morning routine or way of working which helps you to be creative?

Love, respect others, respect the planet, keep true, and embrace every day as if it is your last. Try to stay healthy, sleep as little as possible, and do as much as you can to make a difference to others.

The view from SUSHISAMBA | © Ming Tang-Evans
The view from SUSHISAMBA | © Ming Tang-Evans