Q&A: Alberto Cavaliere and Sam Lazarus

Categories: Features

After meeting in the white-hot atmosphere of a Marcus Wareing kitchen, Sam and Alberto have become firm friends. Now these talented young chefs are heading out on their own, setting up shop at the Borough Market Cookhouse with their pop-up dining experience, The Chef’s Table. They talk hard work, mystic menus and why they think water baths are a bad thing

Interview: Viel Richardson
Portrait: Alice Mann

How did you guys meet?
Alberto Cavaliere: I met Sam when I spent a week in Marcus Wareing’s restaurant as a ‘stage’—basically an intern in a professional kitchen—while on the Fifteen apprenticeship programme. Sam was running the garnish section and I was based with him. When I had finished at Fifteen, I went back to Marcus’s full time and ended up working with Sam again on the larder section.

What were your first impressions of each other?
Sam Lazarus: My first impression of Albie was that he was a good extra pair of hands. With a stage, you generally give them small jobs and have them observe. But we were under the cosh a bit and I needed someone who was prepared to really jump in and do some of the bigger jobs.

For example, I was responsible for one of the purées, and there was a lot involved in making them to Marcus’s standards. I put Albie on peeling and chopping the carrots. That might sound simple, but it takes 20 to 30 minutes to do each batch and I was making eight purées a day, so to be able to trust him with veg prep and have him get it right all the time was a massive help.

AC: It was my first time in a two-star kitchen, so it was very intimidating. My first impression of Sam was how helpful he was. He took the time to show me what I needed to do, where everything was. He made it easy for me to adapt, which I really appreciated. I was very surprised at how young he was. To see an 18-year-old in that kitchen with the responsibility he had was very impressive. We just hit it off straight away.

What is your approach to cooking?
SL: We both have a very classical approach. Cooking is a skill. It is an art. That was what we learned from Marcus. We were taught to cook by touch; to understand the feel of the ingredient at different stages of cooking. It is talking to you and you need to know what it is saying.

AC: It is great having temperature probes and cooking with sous-vides (water baths), but what if they break down? You can find yourself lost. In Pierre Koffmann’s kitchen they are both banned, and we like that approach. We base our cooking on feel, touch and experience and so far, it has gone down very well.

But you seem to take a less classical approach to writing the menu—how do you write it?
SL: Our menu is a story you go through and because everybody sits around one table, if there are two different parties, it gets them talking about the menu and what they’re going to eat. It creates a nice vibe.

AC: I just write down the ingredients for each dish and think of things that are relevant to it, so for a foraged dish we will talk about the forest floor, the mushrooms found growing there, and talk about the land the ingredient comes from etc. I look at what we are using and try to make a rhythm out of it.

What is Sam like in the kitchen?
AC: Sam is confident in his abilities which is what you need if you are going to produce the food we want to produce. Sometimes we do clash heads. He has a shorter fuse than me, but we both have that alpha male aspect to us. We are both ambitious and want to do well. There are times when we have different ideas about what to do or the approach we should take to something, but we figure out how to put our differences aside and decide on what is best for the business.

What is Albie like in the kitchen?
SL: He is a lot more relaxed than me. I started at Marcus’ just after my 16th birthday and it was a tough kitchen. Things were very intense and there was a lot of pressure. Before that I worked under Gordon Ramsay at the Savoy—both very intense kitchens—and at that age, you take on the influences around you, so I tend to be more explosive in the kitchen.

Albie came up through a Jamie Oliver kitchen. He is a great chef, but the kitchens at Fifteen are a more nurturing environment so Albie is more relaxed in the kitchen—but still with the same drive. We both have a passion for what we do, but they are expressed in different ways. It is just a result of the kitchens we learned in.

What it the best and worst thing about working with Sam?
AC: The best is Sam’s work ethic, and the worst is his occasional overconfidence. Sometimes he thinks nothing can go wrong. Something can always go wrong.

And Albie?
SL: The best is that I am working with a really good mate. The worst is that he reaches a bit further than his experience allows. We’ll have a debate about it, then it’s done and we get on with what needs to be done.