BRETT GRAHAM

CHEF

Country Style - - MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD -

The man at the helm of a Lon­don res­tau­rant with two Miche­lin stars tells Bar­bara Sweeney about cheese sand­wiches and a Hunter re­gion child­hood.

e’s one of the world’s lead­ing chefs and his Lon­don res­tau­rant, The Led­bury, has not only been awarded two Miche­lin stars but it also sits at the num­ber 10 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list, a UK guide. Sev­eral Lon­don news­pa­pers have de­clared it the UK’S top res­tau­rant. Aged just 36, Brett Graham’s rise has been re­mark­able — and in­trigu­ingly this is the first es­tab­lish­ment at which he has been head chef. His suc­cess, as Brett tells it, is down to an in­ner com­pet­i­tive drive, de­ter­mi­na­tion and a prodi­gious work ethic, learnt from his par­ents, Jeff and Jenny Graham. Brett grew up in Wil­liamtown, a very small dot on the map north of New­cas­tle, with his par­ents and his older sis­ter, Re­nee. The culi­nary ca­reer be­gan when he did a year 10 work ex­pe­ri­ence place­ment with New­cas­tle seafood res­tau­rant Scratch­leys On The Wharf. Brett was so taken with the ac­tion that, af­ter work­ing his day shift, he asked to stay on and do the night one as well. Within three days the owner had of­fered him a job. Three years later, in 1997, third-year ap­pren­tice Brett moved to Syd­ney and one of the most am­bi­tious new restau­rants of the day, Banc in Martin Place. It was while at Banc that Brett won The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald Good Food Guide/ Josephine Pig­no­let Young Chef Award, which in­cluded a flight to Lon­don and in­tro­duc­tions to chefs. “I thought I’d go to Eng­land for a year, save up some money and travel,” Brett says. But af­ter he worked at a two Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rant, The Square, its chef and co-owner, Philip Howard, pro­posed that they open a new res­tau­rant with Brett in charge. “When I agreed, I was 23 years old,” Brett says. “It was a big risk. I hadn’t de­vel­oped a reper­toire of dishes be­fore ar­riv­ing in Eng­land. I’d never been a head chef,

Hn­ever had to write a menu. I went to Lon­don as an open book and I landed there full of that real, raw, Aus­tralian let’s-have-a-go energy, de­ter­mined to make the ex­pe­ri­ence work to­wards my ca­reer.” The Led­bury opened in 2005, by which time Brett had another com­pelling rea­son to stay on in Lon­don; Natalie James, who is now his wife. The same year, Brett re­ceived a call from one of his teach­ers in New­cas­tle, Rein­hold Forster, who had a plan to start a culi­nary schol­ar­ship for TAFE stu­dents. Back then Brett wasn’t so sure about the schol­ar­ship bear­ing his name. “I felt a bit weird,” he says. “I was only 24. Rein­hold was the driv­ing force. But I wanted the stu­dents to un­der­stand that just be­cause they’d done an ap­pren­tice­ship in New­cas­tle that didn’t mean they had to have a small hori­zon. “I wanted them to get ex­po­sure to top-level hos­pi­tal­ity in the UK, with the idea that they would re­turn home and in­vig­o­rate the lo­cal in­dus­try. It’s made me in­cred­i­bly proud over the years, with guys like Troy Rhoades-brown of Muse Res­tau­rant in Pokol­bin, El­iza Tay­lor, who now works with Mag­gie Beer, and Chris Thorn­ton of Res­tau­rant Ma­son in New­cas­tle win­ning the schol­ar­ship.” Trips home oc­cur fairly regularly: he was in New­cas­tle last year to mark 10 years of the schol­ar­ship and was back in the coun­try ear­lier this year to ap­pear on the cook­ing show Masterchef. And Aus­tralia is never far from his thoughts. “So many great young Aussies come to work for me,” Brett says. “What I love about them is how pos­i­tive they are. They want to put their heads down and are not afraid to work hard.” For more in­for­ma­tion on the Brett Graham Schol­ar­ship, visit hunter.tafensw.edu.au/stu­dents/pages/schol­ar­ships.aspx

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