How Brett Gra­ham be­came the high­est ranked Aussie chef in the world.

New­cas­tle na­tive Brett Gra­ham, who helms The Led­bury in Lon­don, is the high­est ranked Aus­tralian chef in The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants. On the eve of the awards in Mel­bourne, DAN STOCK spoke with him

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents -

Like count­less Aussies be­fore him, the bright lights of Lon­don beck­oned a young Brett Gra­ham. But, un­like most trans­plants, it wasn’t a crowded share house in Ful­ham, cheap flights to Reyk­javik, or Glas­ton­bury mud that was the big­gest draw­card.

Rather, with a Young Chef of the Year award tucked into his back pocket, Lon­don was the place a 21-year-old Gra­ham went to buckle down and graft, work­ing long hours to hone skills learned at Syd­ney fine diner Banc.

That let­ter of in­tro­duc­tion opened doors that in­cluded The Square, where he landed a job work­ing with well­known chef Philip Howard.

Fast for­ward 15 years, and Gra­ham is ar­guably the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed Aus­tralian chef cook­ing any­where in the world. He’s the high­est ranked Aussie on The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list, where his restau­rant, The Led­bury, is cur­rently pegged at num­ber 14 (it’s been as high as num­ber 10). He also has three Miche­lin stars – two for The Led­bury and an­other for The Har­wood Arms, Lon­don’s only Miche­lin-starred pub.

Im­pres­sive stuff for a boy from New­cas­tle who started his ca­reer at 15, as an ap­pren­tice at a seafood restau­rant called Scratch­leys on the Wharf.

Even so, you won’t see Gra­ham’s cook­book in stores any­time soon, and you rarely see his face on TV, be­cause he shuns the trap­pings of the celebrity chef. Where you will see him is work­ing the pass of his Not­ting Hill restau­rant nine shifts a week, along­side his team.

“The most im­por­tant thing for me is that I still work in the kitchen, that I’m full-time on the rota (ros­ter) and do the same as my other staff,” the 37-year-old says. “There’s a hand­ful of chefs around the world who are so tal­ented, they can just turn their hand to any­thing at any time. I’ve got to keep work­ing hard at it.”

Mod­est, metic­u­lous and fo­cused, Gra­ham’s ded­i­ca­tion is firmly cen­tred around his cus­tomers. The Led­bury has a months-long wait­ing list to se­cure one of the 55 seats. The chef has also just opened a 27-hectare deer park in Ox­ford­shire to sup­ply the restau­rant with veni­son.

“Peo­ple have big ex­pec­ta­tions when they come into my restau­rant and I don’t want to let them down,” he says.

Gra­ham is head­ing back to Aus­tralia next month for The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants awards in Mel­bourne on April 5. It is only the sec­ond time the in­flu­en­tial awards have been held out­side of Lon­don. By co­in­ci­dence, the same date marks 12 years to the day since The Led­bury first opened its doors.

“Twelve years is a big achieve­ment, but the cor­ner­stone of the whole thing is our cus­tomers.

“It’s amaz­ing how many peo­ple in this trade don’t con­sider their cus­tomers as their num­ber one pri­or­ity,” he adds.

As for the 50 Best rank­ing, Gra­ham says it’s sim­ply an hon­our to be in­cluded. “You’ve got to make sure you don’t take it too se­ri­ously,” he says.

“A mea­sure of a good restau­rant is not so much if you’re num­ber 1, 2, 3 or 20 but that you’re on the list some­where.

“If I got bent up at not be­ing a cer­tain rank­ing, or got up­set if we slip five places, that’s not where I want to be.”

The food that comes out of his kitchen has roots in clas­sic French but is now a jour­ney through Bri­tain in­formed by sin­gu­lar pro­duce – sea bream with frozen English wasabi, Herd­wick lamb with tea-glazed aubergine, or Scot­tish lan­gous­tine wrapped in shiitake.

When not cook­ing, Gra­ham can of­ten be found hunt­ing deer that ends up on the plate. “It’s not that I love the shoot­ing part so much, it’s more that I love what comes out of it,” he says.

“Com­pare the life of some farm an­i­mals to a wild deer in the English coun­try­side, liv­ing rel­a­tively stress-free. There’s no ques­tion what’s the most eth­i­cal thing to serve.”

Gra­ham hopes to grow the herd at his park to about 150. The deer will be fed with left­over veg­eta­bles from the restau­rants’ sup­pli­ers, while a lo­cal brew­ery will sup­ply spent grain.

It’s part of a move by Gra­ham to es­tab­lish closer links be­tween the restau­rant and the in­gre­di­ents used. Din­ers can, at the end of a meal, now take home bags of com­post made from kitchen waste.

Though the coun­try­side calls of­ten, and he’s proud of his her­itage, Lon­don is where Gra­ham calls home. He lives in the city’s south-west with his wife, Natalie, their nine-month-old daugh­ter, Romilly, and their pug, Win­ston.

“I have noth­ing that would make me go any­where else,” he says. “Who knows? When I get too old to be a chef, I might move to the coun­try. But, for now, The Led­bury is where I’ll stay.” The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants will come to Mel­bourne in con­junc­tion with Tourism Aus­tralia’s Restau­rant Aus­tralia cam­paign. It co­in­cides with the 25th Mel­bourne Food and Wine Fes­ti­val, March 31-April 9. Eight chefs whose restau­rants have ap­peared on the list will hold mas­ter­classes on April 1-2. For pro­gram and tick­ets, mfwf.com.au.

LON­DON LU­MI­NARY Aus­tralian chef Brett Gra­ham is a star in the UK for ex­quis­ite fare such as this munt­jac deer with red leaves and veg­eta­bles.

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