“You don’t understand how much of a craving I had for chips and salt,” is not what you expect to hear from Sushisamba’s executive head chef, Cláudio Cardoso – a man of discipline, clean living and superior palate by even professional standards.
Chef Cardoso always makes a point of knowing exactly where his ingredients come from. This means he can be found anywhere from fishing off the coast in Cornwall to touring Japan’s rice paddies when he’s not running the kitchen of one of the City’s most notorious hotspots.
Cardoso’s latest quest for unique ingredients took him deep into the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest to where the trees dwarf even the dizzy heights of Sushisamba’s iconic location on the 38th floor of the City’s tallest tower.
This involved a flight to Lima, another to the Andes and then driving for eight hours – “too fast for my liking” – to Satipo on the edge of the rainforest. Oh, and a a nine hour boat ride followed by daily treks of six to eight hours to meet the Asháninka people of Peru.
Cardoso wasn’t just sourcing ingredients however, he was visiting with the charity Cool Earth, which aims to empower indigenous people to stop further rainforest destruction at the hands of loggers. Dame Vivienne Westwood and her husband Andreas Kronthaler are patrons of the charity.
“But it’s not just awareness about saving the rainforest. It’s more about bringing awareness about the people there and creating conditions for them to have longevity,” says Cardoso.
“If you have those people there for a long time, the rainforest will be safe. They will only use a tree if it falls or is rotten. If they cut a tree down they feel bad and will always tell you how many more they planted to replace it.”
One way of empowering the Asháninka is to educate them about loggers and the outside world. Another is to teach them to farm crops to produce more food for their families – and provide a stable revenue stream.
“With us helping them to make money by producing coffee, cocoa, sesame seeds and achiote (a flower whose seeds are used to make a bright red spice, and also as face paint by the Asháninka), they no longer have to accept the cheap deals from the loggers so they can buy essentials such as tools,” says Cardoso.
Sushi Samba now offers guests with a sense of adventure a taste of the Amazon right here in the capital’s concrete jungle. Each dish inspired by Cardoso’s trip is made using ingredients harvested by the Asháninka community.
This includes Corn Seviche – an unusual take on the famously Peruvian ceviche, created by corn from the Asháninka and mandarin – which grow in abundance in the rainforest but the Asháninkas don’t eat because legend says it will turn them orange.
The Yuca Plantation is an incredibly imaginative smoky yet sweet must-try made from sweet potato and yuca that form the staple of the Asháninka diet. The inspiration for the dish is the way the Asháninka farm yuca – burning fallen trees to fertilise the soil. The smokyness that comes from the dish is at first a little disorientating but you will soon be using the spoon to clear your plate.
Welcome to the Rainforest is not to be missed, even for those who typically skip dessert. It’s a chocolate-lovers dream, and is designed to symbolise the ground of the rainforest.
“Just the thought that you’re having something from so far away that’s got this amazing flavour is cool,” says Cardoso.
You can read more about Cardoso’s trip and the charity Cool Earth, here.