NOT IN OUR STARS
THE LEDBURY’S MICHELIN RATING IS BY THE BY FOR AUSTRALIAN CHEF BRETT GRAHAM – HE’S MORE CONCERNED WITH HIS GUESTS AND OTHER ANIMALS.
Brett Graham didn’t really want to move to the UK. Born in Newcastle (the NSW one), he had spent a few years in Sydney as chef and had his heart set on Spain as the next step in his career. So when he won a culinary award that paid for him to travel and undertake a stint in a kitchen in London, he was not enthused.
“I didn’t have much money so I thought I would go and work in England for 12 months and then make my move on Spain,” he tells WISH. “Seventeen years later, I am still here. I did end up going to Spain but it took me about six years. As a young Australian working in London, I didn’t realise how it expensive it was to live there.”
Graham instead started working at The Square in Mayfair and made an impression pretty quickly. The owners asked him to open The Ledbury restaurant in Notting Hill in 2005. Within 12 months, he had his first Michelin star and by 2010, he had scored a second. The restaurant gets consistently rave reviews and was named the 27th-best restaurant in the world last year: the highest spot for any Australian chef. He celebrates 13 years with the Ledbury in April and is a partner in the business.
“I was 23 or 24 at the time [of The Ledbury’s opening] and I didn’t really know much,” he says. “We started out simply and very quiet. Often nobody came and hundreds of times for lunch, we would only have five or 10 people. It took years to get to where the restaurant is today. But the most important thing we did is try hard to connect with our customers. Everything we do is based around our customers and how we can make them have a better experience.”
Graham’s food is seasonal and focuses on showcasing the best British produce, especially wild game. He breeds deer in the “other part of his life”, and now has what he believes is one of the biggest herds of white deer in the world, kept at two stately homes in the Midlands: Boughton House in Kettering and Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire. They provide a fabulous backdrop for the houses (which double as wedding venues) and also enable Graham to learn about sustainable farming.
“The long term goal is to provide The Ledbury with some amazing venison that is sustainable,” says Graham. “What I am looking at is how we can feed these animals without flying in grain from the other side of the world; how to reduce the impact on the environment.” For him, that is a much better goal than aiming to get another Michelin star. “It was an amazing feeling getting two stars, but we were open for dinner that night so you crack on and you have to keep going,” he says. “It’s not something I think about first thing in the morning. I think, can we get the freshest produce and can we give the best experience to the customers? How can we do better today?”
Chef Brett Graham; Hardwick lamb; and The Ledbury interior