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OX Meets: Sam Way

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Sam Way

Self-taught home cook and content creator Sam Way is better known by his social media handle, @samseats. His insanely satisfying cooking videos, which document every sizzle, splash and slice in a 60 second serving, have garnered him over 13 million followers and he’s not stopping there. Moving away from the screen, his cookbook was published last year, and in May he’ll be taking part in the Blenheim Palace Food Festival.

Until we got chatting, I didn’t realise that, for Sam, Blenheim was home turf: “I spent the first 20 years of my life just outside Burford. So I’m very much an Oxfordshire boy. I have such fond memories of the area and its always like my safe place to go back to. A bit of countryside air; it’s always got a place in my heart.”

Let’s start with the basics: how did you get into cooking?

It was a pretty standard route. I grew up in a family where my mum and dad did a lot of home cooking, and we all love our food – we never really got take-out, so we really did just surround ourselves by lovely home cooked meals. I think having dad as someone who did a lot of cooking inspired me to get into the kitchen. As I got into it, I got hooked because it’s that kind of thing; for me that was relaxation. Probably in my teen years – early teen years –I really started. Not just like chopping onions to help mum and dad, but more like actually wanting to cook because I enjoyed it, and it was my kind of mindfulness. 

So when you were growing up you were a teenage dynamo in the kitchen but were you also playing Fortnite or whatever else young teenage boys do?

When I was a teenager my main thing was sport. My main sport was athletics, so I did multi-events, which is a bit of everything: running, jumping, sprinting that sort of stuff. I got to a level of going for international positions when I was about 15-16 but I never managed to get there because I got injured but [before that] I was really keen to try and make sport a career. That also propelled my love for cooking because obviously food and nutrition was quite a big part of that. I wanted to know what went into foods, so that, paired with the curiosity and love for it, and also being surrounded by home cooked meals, was what made me start cooking.

So, I would say sport was my thing when I was younger, but also I always loved my music and my art. I feel like sport is that thing that everyone sees you doing, but then actually behind the scenes, music and art – which I did in school –as well, and I think that’s probably where the creativity stemmed from. It was a busy childhood; I packed it full of things. 

And what did your friends make of your love of cooking?

I don’t think I ever really talked about it with my mates. I kind of did it in the comfort of my own home and I never really talked about it...

You weren't taking pictures and putting them on Instagram? 

No, I was, like, nearing the end of school when I started that. I think my mates started finding out about it and they would find it hilarious that I was obsessed with baking bread and getting all these random photos of it but most of the time I kept it pretty quiet. I think people probably knew me more for the sport and the arts and all that other stuff. Where I was at school, cooking wasn't on the syllabus but it was nice, because it was my thing I could do myself. 

So you showed your cookery to the world before you showed your friends?

Yeah, actually a lot of people I knew didn’t realise I was that into cooking, which was quite hilarious. When they found out they were, I guess, slightly amazed. It felt like it had come out of nowhere but obviously it hadn't. I think they were really happy for me because I didn’t have like the easiest time: l I left school, I didn’t get my A levels, didn’t go to university because I got injured playing rugby and that stopped my sport career and it stopped my academics, which I was actually really into; I was quite academic. All of that just took a turn, and then so I spent a good few years trying to find what I wanted to do. I was in a job in the first lockdown that I really didn’t like, so I left, and set up my social media as a portfolio to work in a restaurant. 

Right. You had a goal in mind?

Yes, really my aim through setting up social media was to get a job in a restaurant or to get a job with a food and drink start up, because I’m not trained. In fashion and art you have a portfolio to show people, whereas with cooking you don’t really get that, so for me it was videos. Obviously it took a different turn and I’ve managed to make a different career of it.

At what point did you realise you’d become properly famous?

If people say the word famous I aways get a little bit like… yes, I’ve got a big following, but I feel like I’m still – hopefully – pretty grounded. I wouldn't class myself as famous, but in the digital world I guess, yes. I have this large following… 

An extremely large amount of followers.

I think it was a few weeks into posting videos, they were getting a couple hundred thousand views each consistently, and it was at that point I was like, ‘wow this could actually go somewhere’. It wasn't a random one-off video that got lots of views, which can happen a lot on social media: I was in the position where I was managing to get that on every single video I posted, and my following was going up quickly. At that point I realised, ok this is going to go somewhere and thankfully it did.

How has your cookery evolved?

My cookery has changed quite a lot actually. Like I said, through sport it was probably a little more health-driven and then actually when I left school I got into trying just to find out where everything came from, trying to cook everything from scratch because I just find it really interesting. I feel like there has been a transition from copying recipes to actually now trying to develop my own recipes, which is what I love doing.

It's nice to know how things are made, like making your own mozzarella. Actually, when you try it at home it’s good fun and quite easy but it’s also quite insightful to know where things came from. I would say my cooking has evolved; it is now more the extreme home cook – that is what I like to call myself. 

Your videos hit on every point. How do you adapt that for a live presentation like what you’ll be doing at Blenheim?

Obviously going from social media to real world it is a bit of a jump. You can stay on social media and make a great career of it, but I wanted to do some stuff outside of that. Last year I released my first cookbook and that was my step into getting into the real world and putting my face in front of people in person. I think I’ve managed to transition from doing videos online to writing this book, to then actually being in front of people, like at Blenheim, where I can talk to people about my experiences.

I also think maybe it’s quite refreshing for some people who have been in a similar position to know that things might not go your way through school and uni, and you can still find something you enjoy and make a success of it. As cliched as it is, that is something that I like to talk about because it wasn't easy during those times. Hopefully it can inspire people.

Fantastic. Now, I’ve got to ask you the obvious questions: what’s your go-to recipe?

Ok, so if I’m picking one recipe to cook for friends and family its always going to be a ragu of some sort. I love a good home-made Bolognese, but I think a short-rib ragu; where you slow cook the short-ribs and then pull them apart. You can eat it with anything – in pasta, wraps, all that kind of stuff.

What is your must-have spice?

Aside from pepper? I think cinnamon is great. Some people love it, some people hate it but I use it in a lot of different cooking. I was introduced to it through Indian and Mexican cooking but it’s actually really interchangeable and really versatile for all realms of cooking. It adds a warmth to the dish.

I’ve got a little game which I like to think I made up called Desert Island Carb. Mine is rice, what’s yours?

Mine would be potatoes, I think a lot of people would agree with me on that. You can cook potatoes in so many different ways, you can have roasties, mash… yeah, it would have to be potatoes without a doubt.

Finally, what do you make for an easy supper?

Genuinely, it is always a tomato sauce. I just chuck some onions and garlic and any herbs I’ve got in the fridge in a pan, leave that for 15 minutes, then chuck in some nice, tinned tomatoes and leave that for another 20 minutes. A nice basic tomato sauce.

Sam Way AKA @samseats will be appearing at the Blenheim Palace Food Festival which takes place over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend, 25-27 May 2024. Other guests include Raymond Blanc OBE and Olivia Burt, author of Good Looking Cooking.

Tickets are available online at blenheimpalace.com

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