Taste Buds magazine speaks to Darren Broom from the Puffing Billy in Exton, on the Exe Estuary
Darren Broom is Head Chef at the Puffing Billy in Exton where he has built himself a career to be proud of, working his way up the ranks since qualifying from Exeter College. Today he is striving to put The Puffing Billy on the food map as one of Devon’s best restaurants.
How did you first discover your love of cooking and when did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I didn’t discover cooking until I was 18. I joined Exeter College and applied for a job at The Puffing Billy. The college gave me a strong reference and the owner saw a spark in me. I started there as a commis chef on a trainee wage, but I was very committed and determined.
Tell us about your background and career and how you came to be Head Chef at The Puffing Billy.
I did a two-year course in professional cookery at Exeter College on an apprentice scheme, spending one day at college and five days on site. I was promoted to chef de partie, then sous chef before qualifying. I was very passionate about working at The Puffing Billy and really wanted to get us on the map as a serious contender for the best restaurant in Devon. I was soon promoted to head chef so I could take the lead in this. After leaving college I relied heavily on teaching myself.
The food served at The Puffing Billy can be described as ‘Modern British’. What does this mean exactly?
My style of food champions South West produce. Everyone appreciates local, seasonal produce, cooked in a way that reflects home-cooked and gastro classics with modern presentation and cooking techniques.
How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
Simple flavours cooked well, served at a good price and making sure we do justice to our local area, suppliers and customers. I think the key is not to over-complicate things, keep it fresh and let the ingredients speak for themselves, especially with the produce we have here.
What are your favourite locally sourced ingredients and why?
I love the array of fish available to us, and the game season. If I had to narrow it down, it would be fennel (very versatile), Powderham estate venison and River Exe mussels.
What local suppliers in particular do you work with and why?
I work very closely with a fantastic supplier of fish and shellfish called KJM seafoods. They bring me the best fish they have caught at untouchable prices before it goes to market. The turbot and monkfish they catch are superb and their crab is the best I’ve had.
Where do you most like to eat out locally and why?
When I go out for a meal I am looking for something simple, but done properly. I love Harry’s Grill Bar in Exeter and, for the all-out experience, Gidleigh Park is fantastic.
What local chefs or food producers do you particularly admire?
I have always admired the reputation of The Jack in the Green Inn, mostly due to the great efforts of Matthew Mason and team. I have not had much mentoring, but my all-time food hero is Gordon Ramsay.
What is your favourite meal?
You can’t beat a well-aged ribeye steak cooked perfectly so it melts in your mouth, with proper hand-cut chips. I love producing this at The Puffing Billy – it goes down a real treat!
What is your signature dish?
I haven’t really got one but we are well known for some dishes, like my belly of pork, ox cheeks or sea trout with langoustine vinaigrette and local beets. If I had to choose it would be my entry to Taste of the West Young Chef of the Year: West Country beef fillet with sweet onion tart, morel, asparagus and broad beans, celeriac puree and Otter Ale jus.
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