How the ‘Hidden Gem’ Pythouse Kitchen Garden chef learned to cook after childhood trauma

Darren Broom learned to cook after a traumatic incident at age 19 left him with PTSD and shattered his dreams of becoming a sports psychologist. Mid-review for his A-levels, Broom suffered a knife attack that put his life on an unexpected course. Today, surrounded by rolling green hills and crumbling stone walls, he is 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. First off, I’m really sorry you had to go through this. Second, explain to me how this incident led you to where you are now? Thank you, it was an experience that I have used to motivate me in many areas of my life. After reflection, it was a chance to question myself, to question my beliefs, my values, to develop my character and to really understand who I am; while developing an intuition that helped me manage others in kitchens.

First I dropped my A levels, stress, lack of sleep, night terrors and depression made me unable to function. I tried to motivate myself to find work, by taking manual labor, but it wasn’t for me. Discussions with my friends and family about my career path led me to become a chef.

I quickly became interested in the business side of hospitality, learning to be a good chef meant being versatile, cost effective, creative, a good leader, strong in the kitchen and a team player. I enjoyed the high pressure. I quickly rose through the ranks to head chef, and along the way, I was often told, “you’re not like other chefs.”

Who is your favorite chef and why? My favorite cuisine is the “chef’s cuisine”. It’s indulgent, usually quick and easy, and the perfect cuisine to enjoy on your days off! A good example would be an open cut steak sandwich with onions, crispy onions, sriracha mayonnaise, crunchy salad, fried egg and Nduja.

I know you work a lot with local ingredients. Tell me about some of the more unexpected ways you’ve introduced local herbs and foraged produce to 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 poached strawberries in elderflower with whipped cream.

You have worked with incredible chefs. What is the most salient advice you have received over the years? Be good at things that require no talent; Listen; be presentable; arrive on time; To ask questions; work cleanly and be honest.

How did you come to be interested in the art of cooking over the fire and what might surprise people in the style of cooking? I became interested in cooking over the fire while working as a private chef, and later focused entirely on open fire cooking at Nancarrow Farm in Cornwall. The main thing I would say that is surprising is the consistency of the results. Manage your fire well and choose the right fuel – you’ll be surprised at how intuitive fire cooking is.

How does your upbringing in Devon and the South West influence your cooking? It gave me a passion for working with beef, lamb, pork and incredible wild ingredients from the coast, as well as the various fish I grew up with on my doorstep.

What do you think makes a perfect meal? Acidity and texture is something so often overlooked. This sharpness in a rich and comforting dish makes all the difference

What industry trends do you find interesting right now? The fermentation is huge. Likewise, the ingredients and by-products from this process are also exciting.

Do you have a favorite time of year or set of ingredients you look forward to working with? And for that… What new ingredient(s) inspire(s) you at the moment? I love fall; it is by far my favorite time of year. Not so many new ingredients, but British made products like Hodmedods amazing pulses really excite me.

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