10 minutes with: Charlie Brookman

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th March 2015
The Chimney House in Brighton is a pub restaurant with a foraging difference. Head chef and owner Charlie Brookman grew up surrounded by food but studied archeology at uni before realising exploring food was for him. As his first solo project Charlie has developed the food and style over the three years that he has been at the Seven Dials establishment, having moved from his head chef position at The Royal Court Theatre, where he was for about five years until 2012. Charlie serves his innovative dishes in an accessible way where his focus is “letting the availability of local ingredients drive us”.Chimney House Brighton The Chimney House existed before Charlie took over and was nothing like what it has now become, he said: “It was just a sort of fairly standard gastro-pub, with a very varied influence on its cuisine from pasta and Mediterranean to flashes of Thai and Asian cooking. There were some British classics and American BBQ bits and bobs too so it was a bit varied.” Having lived in Brighton for ten years and commuting to London and back for various roles Charlie took the step to stay put in Brighton and take over The Chimney House. He explained: “I was working in London and commuting and spending a bit of time in London but most of the time was in Brighton. “I’m a Sussex boy and I wanted to get back here and I thought the produce in the region was really good. I just wanted to get back to it.” Chimney House BrightonChampioning Brighton and the surrounding areas Charlie didn’t need to look elsewhere to source ingredients for his dishes: “We’ve got such a varied habitat: market gardening on the plains in West Sussex, all the downlands and the livestock up there and the sea. “The woodlands and the downlands and the different sorts of wild products available in different parts of the one county made me want to get back and work with our local ingredients.” With local ingredients comes building up relationships with local suppliers, something which Charlie said “is always developing” and took “12 months to get it working properly”. He explained further: “I was researching suppliers that we could use and talking to people before I took over in the months leading up to it; sorting some things out with wild ranged meat, foragers and things like that. “But there’s always new things and always new suppliers that we’re working with, it’s quite nice now that people are actually coming to us and asking if we’d be interested in any of their produce.” Therefore the main aim Charlie explains was “using all the local products and focusing on the ingredients more, and letting the availability of local ingredients drive us”. Local products that not only come from suppliers but are also foraged. Charlie said: “It’s very interesting to forage the ingredients because there’s so many familiar flavours that might be familiar from other parts of the world that are actually present in some of our native ingredients.Chimney House Brighton “We pride ourselves on a little seashore plant called Sea arrow grass, it looks like chives but tastes of coriander it’s very strange.” This emphasis on local is also an ethos that some surrounding Brighton restaurants are priding themselves on too, Charlie said: “Lots of really good restaurants like 64 Degrees and Silo, the new zero waste place, is fantastic and they use a lot of local and foraged things, there’s a lot of places in Brighton that have a similar focus.” Foraging is now as popular as ever with Charlie saying there are “quite a lot of professional foragers around” that they work with and “It’s a good way of using sustainable products that are just there.” He explained: “There’s no one interfering with them, they are essentially weeds and that’s just the way you look at them isn’t it? You might look at them as a weed or you might look at them as food. “But sometimes you get a bit of time to go out and pick some of the things that we know, that we’re sure of; in the Autumn particularly for fruits and in a couple of months’ time we’ll be out picking the elderflowers and the more we use the ingredients the more you’re exposed and you recognise them growing.” Charlie is now familiar with what is safe and what he wants to use, although if he saw wild plants growing out of the pavement he wouldn’t necessarily use those in his dishes. He said: “If you saw Food Photography for The Chimney House in Brightonsome thyme growing in someone’s front garden you’d be familiar with it, but as you start to become familiar with the wild things you begin to see them everywhere walking down the street. “You need to be very careful of what you’re picking and that you’re sure of what you’re picking. I mean something like nettles everyone would recognise are quite good but then you also need to be careful of the legality of where you’re foraging because obviously, what’s growing on the land belongs to whoever the land’s owner is.” As well as the foraged ingredients it’s the names of them that also draw people to the dishes and creates an “interaction between the chefs, customers and floor staff” something which is also helped by the open kitchen. Charlie explained: “People have always got questions for what these things are and it’s nice to just be able to tell them about it and get them to try things. “Some of the names of some of the foraged things are quite interesting, some of them have got crazy names, opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage for one; it’s just a little salad leaf but it definitely creates some interest.” Interest that is also apparent with the pigs head dish which is a talking point on The Chimney Chimney House BrightonHouse’s social media, although Charlie “doesn’t like to think of this as a signature dish”. Talking about the dish he said: “It’s been on the menu from the beginning in one way or another and it wasn’t very popular at all but now it’s really popular. “It doesn’t look like a pig’s head though as it’s like a croquette, it’s crispy, it’s fried, it’s juicy with some nice bits of garnish on there, it’s tasty just like a piece of pulled pork or something like that really.” Having been opened for three years now Charlie plans at some point to open another pub but this time outside Brighton. He said: “We’re looking at slightly more of a country pub with a bit of land so that we can do more, maybe grow some more of our own produce and things like that.”
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th March 2015

10 minutes with: Charlie Brookman