“Billtong is the biggest thing I miss,” says Sam Williams, the South African-born head chef of Cafe Murano in London’s St James’. “It’s hard to find here and it’s extremely expensive. I always used to chew away on that and watch sport. Living here for such a long time I’m very accustomed to the food now and I’m ‘English and Italian’ when I eat.” Williams has lived in the UK on and off for sixteen years, working as a chef after completing catering college in Cape Town.
However, her forays into food started in the family home, with food cooked by her Norwegian mother and English father.
“My mum loved cooking and still does – we always had home cooked meals. As a girl I’d be sitting on a chair in the kitchen, peeling beans and – especially at Christmas – we would all get together and cook and bake for weeks. Food, family and sharing has always been a big thing for us. My brothers live over here in London now and we’ve carried on that tradition of getting together to cook.”
Williams has also found parallels with the adopted North Italian cuisine she cooks at Cafe Murano and that of the country in which she grew up. “With South African food there’s lots of fish, white meat and chicken, lots of salads and cured meat in the summer. In winter it was the opposite – lots of rustic, hearty food; loads of pulses and beans – it reminds me of North Italian cuisine.”
It was during time spent working as a chef with high end contract caterer Smart Hospitality during the London Olympics in 2012 that Williams formed a career-defining relationship with Murano’s Michelin-starred chef, Angela Hartnett.