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Ashley Tinoco: ‘Cooking the curry at Sam’s Larder helps keeps homesickness at bay’

Sam’s Riverside has made a splash in London since opening at the end of 2019. Molly Codyre talks to head chef Ashley Tinoco about working on cruise ships, growing up in Goa and cooking by the river

Tuesday 21 December 2021 16:42
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<p>Tinoco’s vibrant cooking has attracted diners from all over the city </p>

Tinoco’s vibrant cooking has attracted diners from all over the city

Born and raise in Goa, Ashley Tinoco was drawn to the food industry almost by necessity. After his father passed away when Tinoco was just 12, his mother opened a restaurant to help support the family.

This sparked a passion for food which lead to Tinoco taking up a role as a trainee cook for Taj Hotels, before moving to join Carnival Cruise Lines as a development chef. After a stint as sous chef to Adam Handling, Tinoco took on the role of head chef at Sam’s Riverside where his vibrant cooking is drawing in diners from across the city.

What drew you to the food industry?

My dad passed away when I was 12, so to support my brother and me, my mother opened up a small restaurant in Goa. Every morning after she dropped us off at school, she would head to the market to buy fresh local ingredients and go to the restaurant to cook for the lunch rush. As we grew older, we started helping out, and my mother bought me a little oven which I would use to bake cakes to sell at the restaurant. I knew this was the path I was meant to be on, and when the time came to choose a career, I enrolled in the Food Production and Nutrition Diploma Course at IHM in Goa. 

You started your career as a chef in India – how has the cuisine and style of cooking influenced the way you cook now?

India is a land of spices and flavour explosions, and in Goa, my home state, fish and curry is a staple of every meal. Even now, we have a curry at home every day. When the UK went into lockdown, and Sam Harrison and Fanny Stocker launched Sam’s Larder, I knew curries would be a perfect addition to our offering. Our prawn and chicken curries are some of the best-selling items there and I’m proud to bring a piece of my home to our customers in London.

What was it like working as a chef on cruise ships?

As anyone who’s worked on a cruise will tell you, it’s hard work. Constantly producing food on that scale means long hours and little time off, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything as it gave me a strong launchpad at the start of my career. I learnt how to do catering on a big scale; I assisted in launching several new onboard restaurants, and worked on menu development. It also gave me the experience of visiting different countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Being exposed to so many different cultures helped improve my palate and knowledge of other cuisines.

You joined the team at Sam’s Riverside before it opened – what was it like being such an integral part of a new launch?

Although I assisted in launching chains on the cruise ships, this was my first time launching an independent restaurant and it’s completely different. I remember in the couple of months before opening, Harvey Trollope (the first head chef at Sam’s Riverside) and I were working in a small kitchen in Acton, trialling dishes to find the perfect harmony of ingredients and sauces. It was hard work, but it’s all worth it now to see the success we’ve achieved.

How did you find your time working under Adam Handling in Chelsea?

I joined the Belmond Cadogan at an exciting time – just one month into opening. It was a real treat to work under Adam Handling. I had watched him on MasterChef and was really excited to learn from him. His precision and attention to detail is unparalleled, and I learned so much about fine dining, plating and enhancing flavours. One of the things I admired most was his zero-waste approach to cooking and it’s something I try to achieve as well.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

Curry holds a special place in my heart. The aroma of the spices brings back memories of Goa, and cooking the prawn curry that we sell at Sam’s Larder really helps keep homesickness at bay!

Where do you find inspiration for the menu at Sam’s Riverside?

The menu at Sam’s Riverside is ultra-seasonal and I change it every few weeks. I’m guided by the freshest ingredients of the season and make them the star of the dish around which the rest of the dish is built. As a British brasserie, I try to use local produce where I can, be it strawberries in summer or artichokes in autumn. Currently we have a roasted winter squash soup which is perfect for this weather. We are very lucky to work with Phoenix Farm in nearby White City. As part of the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association, they provide volunteering opportunities for local schools, residents and community groups, and the produce they supply us with is fantastic. I also read a lot of books, and watch all the food shows, which also help spark ideas.

Does the Thames-side location influence the menu you design at Sam’s Riverside?

I grew up by the sea in Calangute, and I’m happiest by water so it’s a pleasure to work beside the river. Sam has always wanted there to be a real focus on fish and seafood at the restaurant, and enjoying it by the river makes it even better, even if we don’t fish there!

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

Fish and seafood – they are integral to Goan cuisine and I can’t get enough of them. They are also so versatile and form the base of countless dishes.

How do you stay motivated with your cooking?

There is nothing I love more than cooking and experimenting with new recipes, and changing the menu so frequently keeps me on my toes. Having such an amazing support system in my kitchen brigade and front-of-house team, and of course Sam and Fanny, allows me to focus on the ingredients and the food I want to create.

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