Chef Spotlight & Recipe: Darren Clay

Chef SpotlightToday on the blog we are featuring a Chef that nearly everyone that comes through our school encounters in some way, shape or form. Chef Darren Clay is currently our Executive Culinary Chef Instructor. He not only oversees the culinary program and its students, but also heads up our corporate events and short classes for the public and is our industry relations liason, connecting students and graduates alike to the "real world" out there! Outside of the kitchen, he leads resume workshops, sponsors ITA cooks, coaches students in competitions, takes care of ordering most of the ingredients and equipment in-house, and you may even occasionally see him with a pencil tucked behind his ear (that means he's in his HGTV handyman mode). 

Oh, and did I mention that in the midst of his many duties at PICA, he's an avid cyclist, music aficionado, and an awesome husband to Liz and a dad to a beautiful brood of five? 

*deep breath*

He does all of that and more with a smile on his face, the driest of wits, and with the passion of a whole kitchen brigade all rolled into one guy. Yeah, sometimes we're not sure how he does it either.

Let's get to know Chef Darren beyond his seven years (and many looks) here at PICA, and of course, we'll wrap it up with not one but TWO of his delicious recipes for you to learn and make yourself at home. You'll find that interestingly enough, the two dishes are from opposite sides of the world, yet they have many shared similar ingredients, both yielding absolute deliciousness!

Darren ClayWhat was your first cooking job, and your best (or worst!) cooking experience there or elsewhere?
My first job was at The William Tell. My worst job was in a hotel in Singapore, cleaning and scoring Brussels sprouts for four straight days.

How would you describe your style of cooking?
Relaxed, comforting, but flavour forward.

What's the difference between your culinary education, and the education you provide at PICA?
My culinary education was more old school. I try and be more nurturing. I also try to explain as many of the "whys" as possible.

What's the most common mistake you see your students make in the kitchen (or in their undertakings)?
Not preparing enough (preparing meaning reading recipes completely, understanding methods, asking questions). Wanting to run before they can walk.

If you were not a chef, what would your alternate career be?
DJ or full time dreamer. (Survey says... Chef Darren is already kind of both of these things anyway.)

Most exclusive or memorable culinary experience?
Driving for three hours, looking for the restaurant Asador Etxebarri in Northern Spain with one other instructor from Seattle and two culinary students. In terms of memorable experiences however, to eat and drink with fellow chefs is always my favourite, as you don't have to worry about talking about anything else but food.

Darren Clay 2What was your latest food or equipment splurge - and was it worth it?
A Starfrit can opener! Worth every penny of the $10 "splurge."

What are your thoughts about 2017's fusion food trend?

Dinner fallbacks (whether take-away, delivery, or pulled from your freezer/fridge)?
Fried rice or pasta. Both take care of all the bits and bobs lurking in the far corners of my fridge.

Who is your own icon, mentor or inspiration?
Anybody (professional or amateur) that cooks for the pure pleasure and satisfaction of feeding other people.

What is your dream culinary vacation?
Road trippin' through Mexico.

Finally, do you have any words of reflection for us?
It is incredibly inspiring to be surrounded each day with so many passionate and knowledgeable fellow instructors. Add to that the raw promise of students from around the globe, each of which bring new ideas, techniques and stories to the school. It keeps me evolving as a chef.


Green Papaya Salad - Som Tam


Papaya Salad3 cups Green Papaya, peeled and grated into thin strips (use a mandolin!) 
12 medium BC Spot Prawns, peeled and deveined
Baby Tomatoes, halved
2 Chinese long beans
3 cloves Garlic
10 small Green Chillies
2 tbsp Fish Sauce
2 tbsp Lime Juice
1 tsp Palm Sugar
2 tbsp Roasted Peanuts
Salt & Pepper


Blanch beans for approximately two minutes, then strain and place in an ice bath. Once cool, allow to dry. 

In a sauté pan heated to medium-high, sear prawns, approximately 2 minutes per side, then set aside.

In a mortar & pestle or blender, pound together the garlic, chillies and beans into a paste. Add the green papaya, pounding lightly just to bruise. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. 

Add fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar to the same mortar & pestle or blender, and pound. Once the palm sugar is thoroughly combined, add tomatoes for a quick pound, then add to mixing bowl. Once everything is combined, mix in the peanuts, cilantro, and prawns. 

Serve with sticky rice.

Chef's Tip: Explore your supermarkets! Green papaya is becoming more readily available in mainstream supermarkets, as is fish sauce, palm sugar, and a variety of international ingredients (many supermarkets have aisles separated for these items nowadays), giving you the opportunity to make this unique and popular Thai salad at home.

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