31 August 2023 · Behind the Cookbook
In London's Exmouth Market, an unassuming corner of the city in 1997, Sam and Sam Clark, husband and wife, revitalized a derelict supermarket and turned it into a culinary landmark. Their humble venture soon set global standards for contemporary dining.
After being introduced by friends in the early 1990s due to their identical names, the Clarks culinary journey led to the iconic Moro cookbook, now available as an optional à la carte add-on for ckbk users. More information on à la carte titles.
We caught up with Samantha Clark to explore the profound influence of this book and heard from Samantha about the experience of running a restaurant with your life and business partner.
Reflecting on those early days, Sam Clark fondly recalled, “Quite soon after Moro opened in 1997, we were approached to write a cookbook. We waited a few years until we had enough 'Moro classics' under our belt.” Their patience paid off, resulting in a cookbook that beautifully encapsulated the essence of the restaurant.
This cookbook was more than a mere compilation of recipes; it was an extension of the restaurant’s very ethos. Sam Clark explained, “Moro recipes are inspired by what we call the 'saffron-cinnamon link’ of Spain, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean, with culinary roots tracing back to the Moorish past when the Moors ruled Southern Spain for 700 years between the 8th and 15th centuries.” This saffron-cinnamon link was the lifeblood of Moro's cuisine.
Authenticity was paramount for the Clarks. When asked how they ensured their recipes captured the true essence of Mediterranean and North African cuisines, Clark replied, “We change our menu every three to four weeks. There are six starters and six mains. We aim to keep each dish as true to its culinary roots as possible by not creating fusion menus. Each dish will come from one country or region, whether it is Moroccan, Lebanese, Spanish, or Turkish.”
Their passion for authentic flavours was palpable. Clark said, “Some of our favourite recipes are dishes that we have tasted on our travels.” Recalling one memorable moment, she said, “Back in the kitchen at Moro we shut our eyes and imagine we are in the souk in Tangiers eating brik for the first time — fried savoury pastries, delicately seasoned with spice. One classic Moro cookbook recipe is Crab Brik, which was inspired by this moment.”
Moro's present day menu remains very much true to the spirit of the original cookbook, Clark confirmed, "As we change the menu so often and keep it as seasonal as possible, we often refer to the original Moro cookbook." She gave some examples of menu items drawn from recipes from the original book: "Only last week we had Quail Baked in Flatbread with Pistachio Sauce, Wood-roasted Cod with Jewelled Saffron Rice, Tahini Sauce, and Chopped Salad on the menu, both of them Moro cookbook classics."
The Clarks' culinary journey began at the pioneering gastropub The Eagle on Farringdon Road in London, where they met and fell in love. Clark reminisced, "The food at The Eagle is predominantly Mediterranean, from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Whilst we were there, a copy of Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food [which is also available à la carte on ckbk] was floating around, and the head chef David Eyre allowed us to delve into this world and occasionally cook Moorish recipes which we loved." Roden offered her appreciation back, noting "The Clarks have a way of making food taste wonderful" when Moro: The Cookbook was first published in 2001.
Working as a couple in the culinary world had its unique challenges, but their mutual respect and complementary skills were their strength. Clark emphasised, "As Sam and I worked in the same restaurants, we have a very similar understanding and approach to food which makes our collaboration mostly harmonious." She added, "We are both focused on trying to produce dishes to the best of our ability without cutting corners. The quality of the food at Moro remains the number one importance for us."
When asked if the original Moro cookbook contributed to a deeper love of Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine in the UK and beyond, Sam Clark affirmed, "Yes, we think so. Along with many other brilliant books, Moro Cookbook has contributed towards a deeper love of Spain and Middle Eastern cuisine in London and across the UK, and we are very proud of that."
As food critic Marina O’Loughlin succinctly put it in her 2015 Guardian review, "Moro was first in so many ways. That stripped-back restaurant aesthetic, all battered wooden floors, bar stools nuzzling long, zinc-topped bar, and bentwood furniture? Moro. The pared-back style of cooking that lets ingredients shine? Moro. The wood oven and grill? Sourdough bread, home-baked until the crust is a dark crunch that softens blissfully in grassy olive oil? Open kitchen? Blackboard with daily specials? Bar counter dining? All Moro."
Balancing life as business partners and life partners wasn't always easy, especially with the demands of the restaurant. Clark said "We have been extremely fortunate in being able to live and work together, trying to nurture both the Moro family and our own family over the years. Having said that, combining family life and restaurant life can be a challenge with long hours in the kitchen and working nights, so it is not always compatible. When the children were young one of us was at the restaurant, the other at home."
But even if the other is elsewhere, Clark tells us that "to this day, if we are both in the kitchen at the same time and someone says ‘Sam’, we both turn our heads!"
Their collaborative writing process was a testament to their partnership. Clark explained, "Again, we do share the work. Often Samuel would help with the introductions while I would test the recipes. Some recipes are his; some are mine, and so we divide the writing up accordingly."
For those contemplating a life and business partnership of this nature in the culinary or creative world, Sam Clark offered sage advice: "Mutual respect is of utmost importance. We rely heavily on each other, and when the dynamic between two people works well, it is complementary and harmonious."
The legacy of the Moro cookbook, with its authenticity, passion, and shared vision, stands as a testament to Sam and Sam Clark's remarkable journey in the world of culinary exploration. It continues to inspire a new generation of chefs and food enthusiasts, ensuring that the saffron-cinnamon link remains vibrant in the tapestry of culinary history.
You can add Moro: The Cookbook to ckbk as an optional à la carte title for a one-off payment of the ebook price.