Darren Brown, Head Chef, Restaurant Angelique, Dartmouth

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th April 2011
Darren Brown is head chef of Dartmouth based Restaurant Angelique. Darren has done exceptionally well to work his way up from being a pot-wash at Botleigh Grange in Southampton. He has worked at Monsieur Max in Hampton Hill where he was able for the first time to learn new techniques in a Michelin starred kitchen. A year later he moved to West Stoke House in Chichester and was awarded his first Michelin star in 2008. After the property there was sold, Darren met Alan Murchison who proceeded to recruit him as head chef for his new venture in Dartmouth. Darren Brown now talks to The Staff Canteen about what it took to reach the position of head chef at Restaurant Angelique.   Talk us through your very new daily role.       Alan Murchison Darren Brown and Simon HulstoneWell it's only been two days but we had an early start yesterday morning because obviously I'd not met the boys before so we had a little introduction and just I had a look through the menus and stuff with Chris O'Callaghan was the caretaker chef from 10in8 before I took over. I had a tour of the kitchen basically and saw how everything worked. I spent an hour or so meeting each of the lads on their sections and sort of helping them through just to try and get to know them a little bit. We had a fairly quiet lunch yesterday so that was a nice sort of way, a nice little introduction to how they do things down here. What are your aspirations? It's quite an established business but it's a new business for Alan Murchison Restaurants so what are the aspirations? Where do you want to be this time next year? Well I think the first and foremost is busy that's obviously I believe the business had a struggling year this year I believe because especially over the wintertime it's not been brilliant. My guess is that it is still quite seasonal here would that be right? Oh incredibly. That's the major challenge for next year it's all peaks and troughs so you do a year's business in six months or whatever. The ideal situation would be to try and level that out obviously we're going to do a lot of advertising with regards to the rooms because that's going to help bring people in, especially in the low season. There's going be some deals and offers with those but yeah the major challenge is really to get the numbers up and make it a successful business that's the first and foremost. How many covers can you seat? It varies really because we're not busy at the moment we're not carrying a huge amount of staff, because obviously that's a huge amount of cost if we're not open and even on a Saturday we're not doing full capacity. You could realistically be doing 55, 60, using both rooms but at the moment we're limiting it to about 30, just using downstairs because there's been a change of ownership again a lot of the staff have just decided to move on. Which happens doesn't it? Which happens, of course, of course. So there's a few guys just started downstairs, we've got a new team together but again there's only four of those, front of house we're talking now so obviously we can't overload those guys and we want to offer a professional service; so we're kind of limiting ourselves so we get it right. When we get busier then we'll start to take some more guys on-board and perhaps we'll start using upstairs a bit more but it is a little bit of a wasted space at the moment. It's widely publicised that it's the 10 in 8 Group and it's quite an aggressive sort of strategy I think to have ten stars in eight years? Yeah I mean I'm never going to say I'm definitely going to get one because that's a foolish thing to say. And very easy to get shot down? Exactly, you can't go round giving it the big I am. No, but there's an aspiration there? Of course there is obviously from when I was at West Stoke the whole reason of going to somewhere like West Stoke, which was a small little place, was that I could develop my own style after leaving London and then hopefully work towards getting a star. Now that took me four years as that was a brand new business as well, so that took me four years to build enough business, get enough guys in, to actually be in a position to have a chance of getting a star. Then after four years we had a Rising Star and then 2008 we actually got the star and we kept it up until this year. So I had that for three years and technically I'm still a star holder down there. Was it hard leaving there being the fact that you'd got a star? Oh it was, I mean because West Stoke was a very special place because of the owners, Rowland and Mary. Their whole ethos was that it was their family and it was their family home and obviously it started as a B&B and grew from there, a very elaborate one I might add. It was always them welcoming you into their home and then obviously as members of staff we were welcomed into their family and it was a very nice place to work. So tell us a little bit about you, where were you before then? What brought you to that part of your career? I started at a hotel called the Botleigh Grange in Hedge End. It was a real nasty little place and basically I started there as a pot wash and then 12 years later I left as head chef of a two rosette, 700 banqueting covers and 90 cover restaurant. So I mean it was a great sort of journey. So you worked there for 12 years? Yeah did a long stint but it was one of those places that every time I wanted to leave and I felt ready to go I got a pay rise which, you know, kept me there. So it was the old golden handcuff job? Exactly the old golden handcuff, or something happened within the hotel that made me want to stay like after a few years they built a new restaurant then a couple of years later they built a new kitchen, a couple of years later they then built a big function suite. So it was always evolving and I was very comfortable there because I'd been there so long it was just it became quite hard to leave but at that time I had gone through a divorce and I just sort of took a long hard look at myself in the mirror and thought, "Well is there more to life than this? I'm on a good wage and I've got an easy life but I want to be more than that so let's go away and sort it if I'm going to do this for the rest of my life". You went to London didn't you? Yeah that's right I went in between the Botleigh I did leave for a little bit and I went to the Lanesborough for a year and a bit. Why the Lanesborough? I had a friend who was already working there from the connection through Southampton College and he said it was a great place so I went up and it was such a fantastic experience but I was living in London in Dulwich and I just never really settled and it just wasn't for me, I'm a country boy at heart. And there's no in between? I had a good time there and I did learn a load but I never really settled and so I came back to Botleigh and went back as sous chef and eventually got promoted to head chef. But then I decided right if I'm going to do this properly I'm going to go and find a Michelin=star kitchen, go and work my arse off and see what happens. So I applied to Monsieur Max. Why there? Any specific reason behind that? I'd eaten there and really enjoyed it. There was a fantastic kind of ambience in there. It was a real old, quaint kind of French themed building and that and I just liked what I ate there. Had you applied anywhere else or was Monsieur Max the only place? No that was the first place to be honest but I went up there and I just had a fantastic day. It was just like I did a stage and I liked them, they liked me and I just liked what was going on. It was a manic kitchen, it was a real eye-opener. It's quite a low profile place as well and you didn't tend to read a lot about it in the press. Yeah, it's shut down now I mean it was 2004, I believe it closed down? So I did just over a year there and again I felt, because I was living in Southampton at the time, and still driving up every day, I really didn't want to move up to London again as it was literally one end of the M3 to the other; so it was a manageable drive. But after a year of it I got a little bit tired and I just felt, not that I'd learnt all I could learn there that's not the right thing to say, but I was just itching to go and do something for myself and I just thought, "Right I'm kind of not ready but I just want to go and do my own thing." Did you have a mental picture of what the right place was? I definitely wanted something fairly small and intimate that I take real control of and sort of express myself really, in a good way. So coming across West Stoke House was fantastic, it was kind of at the end of the process it was getting to like definitely six months in to looking and I was like am I going to find something? Were you taking inspiration from other chefs? Yeah I mean I was going out and eating a lot and obviously just buying books and stuff. So who would you say would inspire you as a chef? I mean obviously the big guys, the main inspiration was Thomas Keller who is just an amazing, amazing chef and obviously from when I was growing up I mean there was Marco (Pierre White), I mean he's just a legend. So what was the last cookbook you bought? It was the Noma book, that will blow your mind. I'm not sure I'll be attempting too much out of there but it's an incredible book. How would you describe Darren Brown's food style, how would you sum it up? I think the cliché is just like modern English I suppose. I don't know really. I try and use stuff that's local, try and keep things seasonal and you don't want to be using stuff way out of season. So therefore just by basically doing those things you are already doing an English kind of food because if you're using stuff within the English seasons you're automatically doing it. We obviously do the classics and because we're open Sundays we do a lot of Sunday lunch, big roasts all the trimmings, and we've just tried not to go too mad and too funky dunky because obviously the clientele down in Sussex is not the youngest; so you've got to cook for your audience at the end of the day. You're now part of a very well publicised group so what do you hope to get out of the Restaurant Angélique but also do you want from Alan Murchison Restaurants, what do you want to achieve in the next five years? I'm not going to lie I'd love a star that's obviously why I came, but it's again to learn, like I've said I've done most of my learning on my own and just the chance to learn off someone like Alan and the way they do things in different kitchens. I've spent some time with Will at La Bécasse and obviously down at L'Ortolan, I've done a week there as well, so just meeting those guys and seeing how they do things has been really inspirational. I'm going to get a lot of support from Alan, we're going to start with his style mainly, just to get the ball rolling and then gradually over time we'll become more and more my own. I'll take more ownership as the weeks and months and years go by. So we'll be good but it's just at the end of the day I want this place to be successful. And there's nothing wrong with that. No, I'm not in it for the fame and fortune I just love cooking and I just want to do it right and I just want a full restaurant that's the best compliment you could ever have. If this place could become really busy and get back to the reputation it had before and, you know, a really positive influence on Dartmouth.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th April 2011

Darren Brown, Head Chef, Restaurant Angelique, Dartmouth