Less than 12 months after Carl Sampson sold his roadside burger van and took residency in The Conservatory on Friar Street in Worcester, he announced on Facebook that he will be moving Sampson’s to a new premises. Carl has been continually supported by his loyal customers and I’ve personally followed Carl’s journey with great interest. As a huge fan of his burgers I was keen to find out what was next…
How did you first get into the burger scene?
Well, it’s a long story. I bought a tatty, beaten up, old burger van as a career switch as I was bored of working in a factory, and if I am honest wanted a job that would fit around gigging with the band I was in at the time. In a nut shell it was a terrible idea as I didn’t earn any money for like 6 months. Then, to cut the story short I got approached by Channel 4 to make a TV programme. I went along and learned that I could actually cook, and I fell in love with food. When the filming had finished I felt completely inspired, so I started using techniques used in world-class kitchens to make burgers. Just before the show aired national papers like The Sun, News of the World and The Times sent their food writers to come and see what had happened, and I got voted with the best burger in Britain. I was basically rocketed into the scene from there.
Cheese on everything… but what is the best cheese for burgers?
To me that’s like a crazy question as there are so many variables. Take for instance the original Sampson burger; that was my first ever release and is advertised as ‘with cheddar’ but in fact it has 3 types of cheddar on it. The 2 strong ones are for taste and there’s a mild one which I use for its melt properties. I literally spend hours on each burger to ensure that all the flavours balance as well as possible. We have up to 12 cheeses in our kitchen at any one time.
On channel 4’s ‘burger bar to gourmet star’ TV show you got to work at 2 Michelin star restaurant Midsummer House, What did you take away from the experience? Do you use any of those skills in your food today?
Midsummer House is an amazing place. Daniel Clifford is a legend and my culinary hero. Both Daniel and the team were given a guy who could just about fry an egg to train to their level and in only 3 weeks. It opened my eyes, changed my opinion of food, put a rocket up my arse and broke down all the boundaries I had about food. I worked in other Michelin restaurants on the show too, including 3 Michelin star Osteria Francescana (Massimo Bottura) in Italy and I did a stage at 2 Michelin star Hand and Flowers (Tom Kerridge). Every time I stepped into one of these kitchens inspiration flowed through my veins like a drug. I love it. As for techniques that I picked up in these kitchens, yes I still practise many everyday. I try to bring some of that flair to the humble burger.
Ketchup or mayo?
Depends what it’s on. Having said that when I am on a diet (as I am now), I will burn a bottle of the red stuff in a week.
What made you decide to take the leap from the roadside van to a restaurant kitchen?
There were a few reasons for it really, the first being that people used to tell me I wouldn’t or couldn’t ever do it (who doesn’t love proving naysayers wrong)? The second reason being that there were recipes I wanted to develop that I couldn’t cook in a van. I had taken the roadside van as far as it could be taken, and I was consistently referred to as the best van in the country both by customers and by the media. I still felt like I had more to give, so I pushed myself, and so I was out actively looking for a premises for Sampson’s. An opportunity arose when I was approached by The Conservatory to take their kitchen after a revamp, so I went for it.
What’s your favourite burger?
Do you mean at Sampson’s or ever?….
I would say the bacon bomb at Sampson’s, just because I tweak every one of mine until I feel they are bang on. If I didn’t favour mine then I wouldn’t be doing my job right. Away from that though if I had to pick a non Sampson’s burger then it’d be a place I love in Florida, I can’t remember its name but every time I go I go get a burger there – they are epic. If I was pinned down to chose one from the UK burger scene I would probably go with The Beefy Boys in Hereford.
Tell us about the highs and lows of running your first kitchen, did the move go as planned?
Well, it’s been a massive learning curve and I have learned a lot. Obviously the hours we worked were crazy at the start. When you have done the 80 hour week you still have the ‘boss stuff’ to do like paper work and stuff. Staff is the biggest issue by far, and this isn’t exclusive to me either. The restaurant industry is crying out for good staff and I sometimes wonder if they are out there. Everyone who knows Sampson’s knows our team is made of family, and those who aren’t family are treated as if they are.
On the point of ‘has it gone to plan’? The answer is yes and no really. There was supposed to be a larger BBQ side of the menu that got cancelled days before opening, as I wasn’t given the roof space as planned for the BBQs and lots of other bits that didn’t quite happen. We are going to correct all this very soon.
Which is Sampson’s most popular burger?
The bacon bomb – that thing goes like crazy. We have been bottling the baconaise as it seems to be everybody’s favourite sauce. This is something we are moving more into very soon.
Who does the cooking at home?
My wife cooks more at home than I do (unless it’s a hot summer’s day and I am all over the BBQ). I do cook too, it is made easier that all our 3 children aren’t fussy eaters.
It’s less than 12 months after the launch and you have recently announced on Facebook that you are moving Sampson’s to a new location. To clear up any rumours or speculation about the reasons, can you tell us more about this decision?
I am being asked about this a lot, people asking: why I have been kicked out, gone bust, hate food…..etc…. most of these are amusing and where they come from I don’t know.
The truth is what I was offered when I was approached to go on there isn’t in reality what I got. I gave a 3 month notice period back before Christmas. I care passionately about Sampson’s, it’s my baby, it’s how I feed, clothe and provide for my children. I want it to be a warm, comfortable, welcoming place to sit, eat and relax with friends and family. I have listened intently to my customers who are unhappy with how this has turned out in The Conservatory, and feel it’s my duty as someone who cares and appreciates their customers to do something about it.
What’s the most unusual request you’ve had (in the kitchen)?
I think this depends on what people class as unusual. After all if everybody’s taste was the same, my job would be very dull. For me it’s brown sauce on a burger. Personally it’s a big no no! Brown sauce is only for sausage sarnies in my book.
Favourite kitchen gadget?
That’s a toss-up between the Thermomix and the Kamado Joe’s…. or actually my ever-growing collection of i.o.shen knives.
There has been a fair few new burger places popping up in the city, what makes Sampson’s different?
We have been around and building a reputation since 2012, and my focus is on the food. I think that people were happy to drive literally 100s of miles to Sampson’s when it was a van. To me that shows that no amount of decor and material things can make a difference. Like I said earlier, I spend weeks just perfecting a sauce or deciding on a particular cheese. I think that’s what sets it apart, that and all the Sampson’s fans who have been on this epic journey with me. I like to think that locally people feel a part of it.
When will Sampson’s officially leave the conservatory?
March 17th 2018 is our last day, it’s on St Patrick’s day and England play Ireland in the 6 Nations. Perfect. We will be running a different menu that day. We’ll be offering a choice of 3 burgers all at £5 each and a choice of 3 side’s all at £2.50 each on the final day at The Conservatory. Let’s make it a manic one.
Suppose you get a night off and want to go for dinner, where do you go?
Man… Miss Patty this is a tough one. My favourite place on earth to eat is Midsummer House. I am long overdue a visit to eat there and see chef Daniel and the team. I also love the Hand and Flowers. Locally there are many places to eat and I am ashamed to say I haven’t tried enough of them. In Worcester, Friar Street Kitchen takes some beating.
The question everyone is asking…. where is the new location?
Drumroll……. We are going into The Old Pheasant which is like 300 yards away from where we are now on Friar Street to New Street.
Great news!…. so when will you open? What changes can we expect at the new location?
We will finally have that BBQ platter on the menu for a start – brisket, ribs…. all kinds of awesome. There will also be a slightly tweaked menu for downstairs featuring a stripped back, bar style menu. Stuff you can eat and pick at whilst having a casual drink if you don’t want to come upstairs in the restaurant. Also it will be open to all ages, no more booking online and being turned away. I hope this new change will iron out all the creases. As well as all of the above I am bringing back some Sampson’s favourites such as the Stateside and Cheeseboard Burger. We will officially open on Wednesday 28th March and the new Sampson’s opening hours are: Wednesday 12-9pm, Thursday 12-9pm, Friday 12-10pm and Saturday 12-10pm.
I just want to take a second to thank every one of our customers. Without you guys I am just a bloke with ideas, you guys make me able to bring those ideas to life. I also want to give big love to my wife Charlotte and our 3 children; Paige, Tristan and Raegan, they keep me going and never stop believing in me. Lastly a massive shout to both my Mum and my Dad. Dad is the best pot washer in the business and Mum does everything around here. Both of them are the best.