Darren Broom learned to cook after a traumatic incident when he was 19 left him with PTSD and dashed his dreams of becoming a sports psychologist. Mid revision for his A- levels, Broom was the victim of a knife attack that set his life on an unexpected path. Today, surrounded by rolling green hills and crumbling stone walls, he’s the head chef at the Pythouse Kitchen Garden in Wiltshire.
I read that you became a chef at 19 after a traumatic incident that left you with PTSD. Firstly, I am so sorry you had to go through that. Secondly, walk me through how that incident led you to where you are now? Thank you, it was an experience that I’ve used to motivate me in many areas of my life. Upon reflection, it was a chance to challenge myself, question my beliefs, values, develop my character and truly understand who I am; whilst developing an intuition that’s helped me manage others in kitchens.
Firstly, I dropped out of my A levels, the stress, lack of sleep, night terrors and depression rendered me incapable of functioning. I tried to motivate myself to find work, taking a manual labour job, but it wasn’t for me. Discussions with friends and family about my career path led to me becoming a chef.
I quickly became interested in the business side of hospitality, learning to be a good chef was to be an all-rounder, costings, creativity, a good leader, strong in the kitchen, and a team player. I enjoyed the high pressure. I quickly worked my way up to head chef, and along the way, I was frequently told, “you’re not like other chefs.”
What is your favourite cuisine cook and why? My favourite cuisine is “chef food.” It’s indulgent, typically quick and easy, and the perfect cuisine to enjoy on your days off! A good example would be an open steak sandwich with onions, crispy onions, sriracha mayonnaise, crunchy salad, a fried egg and Nduja.
I know you work a lot with local ingredients—tell me about some of the most unexpected ways you’ve brought local herbs and foraged items into your menu? We use a lot of herbs in desserts. One dish used fresh tarragon, oregano, mint and fennel, pressed between layers of filo pastry with butter and icing sugar, then baked until crisp. Similarly, we serve with elderflower poached strawberries with a whipped custard.
You’ve worked with some incredible chefs—what is some of the most salient advice you’ve received over the years? Be good at the things that require no talent; listen; be presentable; turn up on time; ask questions; work cleanly and be honest.
How did you come to be interested in the art of cooking over fire and what might surprise people about the style of cooking? I became interested in cooking over fire when I was working as a private chef, and later focusing entirely on open fire cooking at Nancarrow Farm in Cornwall. The main thing I would say that is surprising is how consistent the results are. Manage your fire well and select good fuel—you’ll be surprised with how intuitive cooking over fire is.
How does your upbringing in Devon and the South West influence your cuisine? It has given me a passion for working with amazing beef, lamb, pork and wild ingredients from the coast, as well as the diverse fish that I grew up with on my doorstep.
What in your mind makes a perfect meal? Acidity and texture—it’s something so often overlooked. That sharp edge in a rich and comforting dish makes all the difference
What industry trends do you find interesting right now? Fermentation is huge. Equally, the ingredients and biproducts that come from that process are exciting too.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with? And to that end… What new ingredient or ingredients are inspiring you right now? I love autumn; it’s my favourite time of year by far. Not so much new ingredients, but British-made products, such as the amazing pulses from Hodmedods really excite me.