A Friday Chat with Searcys Chef Director, Darren Deadman12 February 2021
Darren, Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Are you going to be cooking anything special?
I sure am! On the menu this Valentine’s Day is Whitstable Native Oysters (where I grew up and still some of the best oysters around), with shallot vinegar, dill oil and caviar butter sauce. Roast Miso Cod Loin with cauliflower, grapes and caviar. Finishing with a rich Dark Chocolate Cremeux with clementine compote and honeycomb. Obviously served with Searcys Cuvée and an amazing Riesling.
Darren, tell us a bit about yourself
My childhood was spent on a farm in the beautiful Kent countryside. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on the farm, playing and working alongside her. As a result, I have always dreamt of working with and around food. What a place it was to grow up! Growing up, I was able to work with and try the best and freshest produce, which made a profound impact on me. For me, hospitality is all about the emotional enjoyment of good food and people’s company.
Nowadays I live in a small village in Cambridgeshire called Stilton, where the cheese of the same name was served and gained its fame. Here I live in the midst of the countryside, with access to some excellent farms. I deeply enjoy my weekly cooking lessons with my daughters, in which I teach them the importance of local high-quality fresh produce. These lessons have become playful and educational for both them and me and bring me great joy.
When inspiration becomes a recipe
Inspiration comes from many areas, but for me the main route is via emotion, and the attraction of the happiness and pleasure that one gains from tasting a dish that is second to none. Inspiration can come from a book, or a conversation with someone and their memories of a meal they had. Just thinking outside the box and trying to push my knowledge allows me to create menus that offer something different in our restaurants and venues.
The inspiration can be the easy part but transforming a recipe, and then the final dish is a whole different challenge. As taste is so subjective, the trial and error process of perfecting recipes is time-consuming but necessary and can’t be rushed. I always strive to make the recipe better, tweak and adjust it to be lighter, or increase richness. However, when one can finally present the finished dish for friends and family and receive feedback, it makes the wait worthwhile.
What drives you?
I am driven by passing on my passion and teaching my family, friends, and especially colleagues. In a time where one can cook well with minimal, simple ingredients and fresh produce, I feel it is important to teach that cooking is both easy and fun; it just should not be rushed. A shared sense of camaraderie between us helps to drive learning and understanding and the availability of fresh produce. I like to explore different seasonal dishes, with various ingredients available at different times of year, and I eagerly look forward to Spring, my favourite.
My life during lockdown
Lockdown has been a challenging time for all of us but living here has its benefits. Walking in the countryside every day (even in the snow) has been a blessing. Having taken up running, I have gone from hating it to running half marathons and enjoying having the time to clear your head and lose some weight along the way.
Having moved in only 12 months ago, we have had the time to renovate parts of the house and also spend some time gardening during the summer of 2020. However, while staying at home is great for a few weeks, the lack of work for other people has been a challenge. So, in mid-June, I started volunteering at a local food bank nearby to keep busy and help where I could. This was fascinating, and I was able to meet some incredible people from all walks of life from university graduates to lawyers and retired accountants.
I also started to work as in the warehouse of a large online company on night shifts to keep busy and I was impressed by the learning curves and the logistics of next-day deliveries. The people, effort and pressure involved are staggering. The chance to meet new people even in a socially-distanced environment has really taught me to appreciate the effort everyone puts in to support their families and community.
Japanese Milk Buns
Add to this the endless cooking, baking, experiments with recipes – a result my lockdown has been enjoyable. I don’t think our neighbours minded endless supplies of home-made peanut butter cookies, banana bread, Japanese milk buns (my new recipe), roast vegetable terrines and various tarts and cassoulets – especially Mike next door, a retired army captain.
Village and Neighbour goodies baked with Evie