Darren Passmore, Compass Group UK & Ireland: 'I saw the food and I decided that I had to go into hospital catering to try and make a difference to patients that are often having the worst time of their life'

The Staff Canteen


Spotlight: Darren Passmore, executive head chef, Cromwell Hospital, Medirest Signature, Compass Group UK & Ireland 

From an early age,  Darren loved the military. He was a member of the Army Cadets, and when he discovered a passion for cooking he decided he wanted to be a chef, too.

When he was 16, he joined the Army Catering Corps (ACC), where he undertook all the regular military training as a soldier, whilst also completing a 2 year City & Guilds Apprenticeship at the Army School of Catering.

In his 27 years in the army, Darren has cooked all over the world in some of the most challenging environments - such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where he cooked for thousands of people.

He also catered for the ceremonial part of the military whilst serving with the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery, where he was able to cook for senior military officials, VIPs, and was privileged to personally cook for the Queen. 

At the end of his military career, as a warrant officer, he had planned to retire out of the kitchen and move into health and safety or facilities management, but during his resettlement period, his mother-in-law was taken terminally ill in hospital.

It was during his visits with her that he was shocked to see the standard of food being served to patients, and decided to rethink his next career move.

"I saw the food and I decided that I had to go into hospital catering to try and make a difference to patients that are often having the worst time of their life," he said. "That's what drove me to go back to the stoves."

"When you get to a certain rank in the army, it's more about running kitchens and running the logistics. I went back to cooking to make sure that patients were well looked after," he explained.

"I would go and speak to patients, find out their likes and dislikes. I spent a lot of time with the palliative care patients," who, he said, were "often stuck in a room in the hospital." 

"I would go up there and engage with them to find out what their favourite meals were and where possible recreate these for them within the hospital. I would also try and persuade them to come down to the restaurant and have lunch, as this interaction can have a positive impact on their mental outlook.

"They should still be enjoying what life they've got left rather than just being sat in that room."

In his five years as the executive chef at Cromwell Hospital, he has won the unit's chef of the year award and has recently been put forward for the executive head chef of the year award for Public Sector Catering. He could have taken his career in a very different direction, but he has never looked back. 

"It was definitely the right decision to make," he said. "The difference that I can make to patients' outlook on life is amazing, to see the look on their face when they're like, 'oh, the head chef's come up and seen me,' they feel important, they feel listened to, and it makes such a difference to their care."

Forward with Marcus Wareing

Darren is among the first cohort of apprentices on the ‘Forward with Marcus Wareing’ programme, sitting his senior culinary Level 4 apprenticeship.

Part of the course is to promote sustainability through food, learning how to create diverse kitchen brigades, developing mental first aider skills, mentoring and analysis of different leadership styles and outcomes.

To have enrolled on the course, he said, "it's reinvigorated me even more. You're never too old to learn. The stuff I'm learning - and [Marcus Wareing] is always there," whether the practical element is a single or several days.

"I think he's learning as much from us as we are from him, because the chefs come from such different backgrounds and sectors”.

"He does fine dining and what we do is different. He's visualising that and understanding it."

Another positive he has derived from the course, he explained, is the interaction with other sectors within Compass.

"There's fifteen of us on it and we're all connected now. If you've got an issue or if you need ideas, or 'have you got this, have you got that' you can ask the question in our WhatsApp group."

"We're all gaining information from each other all the time now."

The end goal for Darren? "Being able to affect change. Change within the business, how we do things from reaching their net zero goals to educating people as to how they can improve systems and processes”.

On a personal level, he said, "it's so gratifying to be able to give back and help young chefs learn, understand what things work and what we can do to make a change - and for them to realise that their ideas are being listened to.”

"It's also about training them well - so that they can be the next executive chef, the next group chef, the next culinary director.”

Rustic Rhubarb

Last year, Darren and his wife launched Rustic Rhubarb, a café employing people who have missed out on many opportunities in life.

The chef's wife used to provide rural care -working on a real working farm with people with additional needs such as Down's Syndrome and ADHD. When the opportunity to take on the tender at the farm's café came up, they decided to go for it.

Rustic Rhubarb gives the people they work with more opportunities than working on the farm, grafting in kitchens and interacting with customers.

"It's about giving people purposeful work, giving people a sense of purpose and meaning," Darren explained.

Two years later, he said, "it's gone from strength, to strength, to strength."

"We've pretty much got five-star reviews across the board for the food and service, and that's what we like. We feed that back to the staff, saying 'this is what you're doing.'"

The chef doesn't often sit down, preferring to join his wife at the cafe at the weekend than sit at home alone.

"It's a passion. I love it, I love being there and the feeling that you get from helping someone is better than anything, so that's what I want to do."

The Forward with Marcus course has given him an extra boost, reminding him why he chose to do what he does in the first place.

Darren has decided to expand his knowledge further within Compass Group to understand the wider business and use the skills he has learnt both in the Military, his current role and the ‘Forward’ programme, and to this end, he has recently accepted a role within Restaurant Associates as the executive chef for a Formula One Racing Brand.

"It's great to get my passion back, I'm enjoying life the most," he said.

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Editor 17th March 2022

Darren Passmore, Compass Group UK & Ireland: 'I saw the food and I decided that I had to go into hospital catering to try and make a difference to patients that are often having the worst time of their life'