Masterchef S04 ep2 : Brett Graham, Restaurant The Ledbury, [London]
Interview with Brett Graham
Chef "Rising Star" Brett Graham is one of the most respected chefs in London. The only Australian currently to hold three Michelin stars is No.14 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards list. Graham was brought up just outside Newcastle, NSW, and during his three-year stint at Banc in Sydney he won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award, which allowed him to travel to London, where he was taken on at The Square in Mayfair, a two-starred fine-diner. In 2002 Graham won his next Young Chef of the Year Award, while working at The Square. “In the 20-odd years of running The Square there are maybe half a dozen chefs who have really stood out,” says The Square’s chef and co-owner, Phil Howard. “Brett was the cream of this elite crop – hugely inquisitive, immensely energetic, extraordinarily gifted, but most importantly, just a great cook.”
I’ve had quite a journey here at Ledbury, we opened in 2005. I haven’t written a menu before. I hadn’t been a sous chef or head
chef so it was quite a challenge.
The Ledbury is this restaurant which has sort of progressed over the last couple of years, and turned out to be a bit of a crazy
machine. You know we are fully booked lunch and dinner. The kitchen is tight, it’s hot, there are no space to work anywhere.
Some of the young ambitious cooks who are really focused. That’s part of the attraction. The guys who work there, the recipe
around there, they are buzzing around with energy. Everyone is focused and you get that from a small kitchen
I was a young guy of 15 years old and I had all sorts of weird hobbies, ranging from growing plants and raising chickens. An old
guy who lived across the road from me showed me how to butcher a chicken and I was absolutely fascinated. And because I had
it for so long I swore I had to eat this. I didn’t know how to cook, but I just put it in the oven on a tray and it came out, it was
grey and overcooked obviously. It was grey, because it was an old chicken. And the flavor was really good, but it was tough. I
suddenly start to think about. Okay, well, why is the stuff we buy so flavorless and so soft. And why is it so dark and flavorful
and dry. You know, and I think probably that’s where it sort of start to catch the imagination that food can be different.
I definitely wasn’t eating in nice restaurants. I definitely wasn’t in the backyard picking raspberries with my mom. For some day’s
breakfast we were eating frozen pizza bases, frozen peas and corn every night. Shoulder beef steak every night and wondering
why it was tough. Actually at that stage of my life, I didn’t like beef because I had so much badly cooked beef, sorry mom.
After the chicken I cooked something else at home. I think I put two or three ingredients in, I thought there is something [03:33]
in this. That tastes nice and the next thing those things by themselves. No it did work experience in a restaurant called
Scrathleys, down by the water there, Newcastle, a wonderful spot.A very simple place.Lovely fish and chips and baked potatoes,
and salads to go with your main course. And I loved everything. I couldn’t believe I never seen how a chip was cooked. So it’s like
chip, how do you cook a chip? You put it in the deep fryer, comes out crunchy, wow. And I had to come from nowhere. So I
didn’t know anything about anything. You know in fact I was just as fascinated with scaling the fish as I was cleaning the grease
trap in the roof.
I still couldn’t figure out the stage by the way, like I was cooking the chips well any I doing the Kilpatrick oysters well. And I had
worked out that some people were burning them and still sending them. And I was like trying to, maybe I was undercooking
them more since the bacon was crispy and I was to, you know. So I was starting to understand at that young age. But I think
probably when I went to Bank to work with Liam Tomlin, I just turned 18. I went there completely out of my depth. I run around
like an idiot trying to keep up with Liam and all the boys.
When I walked in I see people peeling asparagus. I thought what are you doing peeling asparagus?Life’s too short to peel
asparagus.I just didn't know anybody did those jobs in restaurants, I had no idea. But I spent 2 ½ years at Bank and it was the
most important 2 ½ years in my career. Bank was very disciplined, very focused, every day, every lunch every dinner. And you
know it gave me the right idea on time. But he’s the one probably I got to thank the most for getting me on the right track. And
we’re getting tougher and tougher with that here. But at Bank that’s where it taught me and we’re trying so hard to get
Dived into this new universe of fine dining, I was not used to at all. The determination was what got me through. I was
determined that that the bugger was not. These guys I’m going to be faster than that guy next to me. Once I got as fast as
him,I'm going to try now someone else, and then I’m going to try someone else. In I swear that’s the way I work my way up the
hierarchy there, you know sort of set little challenges for myself.
Now after bank I went back to Newcastle for a little while and I just won the Josephine Pignoletaward. I didn’t have any money.
So as you can imagine fine dining restaurants in those days. Well in any day the pay is not very good as a commis chef and the
prize for Josephine Pignolet award was a trip to London. In addition to that I borrowed a bit of money off my dad. I got through
customs at Heathrow and transferred the money back top dad. I think I was probably about two weeks there and got a job at
the Square. I ran out of money five days later
Inaudible [07:53] was fanatical about making sure everything went right, being setup, and being ready making sure inaudible
[07:59] was there all the time. Feel much more relaxed in there. Feel focus and concentrates on the food and the dishes and the
ingredients. But his approach to his staff is, he’s very gentle, very friendly, very nice. It was unusual for me to go from one
extreme to almost to the other. But what I loved is the food that Phillcooks at the Square, and it opened my eyes so much too.
The llovely scallops roast all roasted and everything done fresh. The beautiful cuts of meat was actually part of the reason that
There is some fantastic produce in Australia and they really made huge hugehuge leaps forward and I mean at world class level
now. But in those days in 98, 99 and 2000, you go to a sous market you could even find a ripe tomato there.
I was only 21 when I came to England. So I had never been head chef, never written a menu. I had no idea what I was doing
anyway. So I didn’t really have a repertoire to re-discover. I was like I was at Bank running around trying to keep up doing my job
trying to do my best. So I didn’t come here with any pre-fixed ideas on this is what you do with this, this is what you do with
that. I came here with a completely open mind and started the Square and really threw myself into it.
I was just about to turn, I think it was about 22 and Phill made be junior sous chef at the square. He has Rob Houise he was
head chef or sous chef and I was a junior sous chef. So it was Phill, then there was Rob and then there was me. But because it
was a seven days operation, there was times where I had to run the association by myself, and there was times where I would
be the one of them to. I loved when I always tried to do my best as a young guy, because there were some of the older guys
would blow me that I couldn’t slip up. That was good actually as it put me under a little bit of pressure to perform.
I think at the Sinking Star for me it had a real mixed blessing. On one side, I said great for the team good, but privately I was like
shit we’re starting again here. We go to go even harder because now people are going to expect us to be as good as the Manoir,
as good as the Square, as good as all those 2 star restaurants who got fantastic reputations. They are going to hold up inaudible
[11:00] they are going to go, Ledbury some young kid from Australia against the Manoir or whatever it was. Their expectations
were going to be nowhere near there. So actually really that year we made a lot of progress, we were punching way above our
weight. I felt we shouldn’t be included in that group, and he had to try double hard to get a bit to feel like we were in that
You could tell this was the Square little sister when it opened. And we slowly over the years have moved away. What’s different
what we do now to what we did at Bank is we’re much more produce driven. For instance, if we make at this with tomatoes in
them. The old way was to boil it in loads of water and be off the skin and put it back in ice water. And for me that just takes all
the flavor out of it. So we actually if we are taking off the skin, we do it with a very sharp knife and take it off like you’re filleting
a fish, to keep all that flavor in especially when the tomato is raw. On a salad, we have one at the moment so I think it may taste
better like that. We cut out a lot of butter and it’s not to say that all the food here has got no cream or butter in it, because it
does. But we have really limit what we cook in. For instance in the old days we used to roast a piece of meat and throw in loads
of butter and it all foams up on the outside. Now we just quickly simmer it in a little bit of vegetable oil and we might cook it
over charcoal or something a little bit just to keep it nice and clean. Some dishes that are on the menu are quite simple that I
wouldn’t have put on a couple of years ago. A simple little salad or something, a really good purchase. And I would think you
can’t have that in the menu to use, that’s not tricky enough. As the cooking progressed and I have got a bit older, I start
inaudible [12:50] actually that is good enough to be on the menu. It doesn’t have to be, you don’t really need that little extra bit
that we always used to put on. So I think the food has improved because of that, because we’re just growing up a bit.
At the moment I do a lot of research into wild food and that’s not herbs and stuff and foraging that do too much of that. But
what I am interested in is deer and all the different species of deer. And how their flavor changes, just before you arrive to the
taste of four different wild deer, Sika, Fallow, Roe and Muntjak. Cooked them all, taste them all, give all my cooks to taste it and
we’re trying to work which one do we like. They are all good, but they are all slightly different. So actually it might influence
what we use for certain dish depending on which deer we want and what the garnish may be. All these deer are shot 1 hour and
15 minutes away from here. So I'm going shooting this weekend just for one morning and maybe a couple of other deer will all
end up in the kitchen next week once it goes through the game dealers and I am a licensed shooter now. And all the boys know
that we’ve got Grass inaudible [14:10], which is a wild bird which is in season. We think it’s in its prime for about 9 weeks, 10
weeks. That’s the only time we use it then we finish, it’s off the menu.
All our meats that we roast is all roasted on the bone or none without sous-vide [14:40]. Well I want my chef to be able to when
they leave her I want them to say I roast a piece of venison from the bone. I want them to be able to roast a Grass on the bone,
poach it then roast it. I want them to have techniques that they can take with them into the rest of their career. Not just sous-
vide [14:56]it down to 50° till it’s poorly done in the middle and then cook it. I actually don’t think that on very lean meat sous-
vide [14:58] does any favors. I think it actually works against it. It makes the meat all more livery and you lose all the blood and
part of eating a roast piece of meat there is blood on the plate and juicy in your mouth. And that’s what we talk about quite
Well actually the strangest thing has happened there at the Ledbury last August, when a group of 30 people congregated
outside and we locked the doors because we knew there was going to be trouble. And they smashed their way into the
restaurant and then robbed most of the customers that were left in the dining room. That was during the London riots. So we
got smashed up, came in and pushed all the tables over. Took people’s engagement rings, phones all sorts of stuff and made off
with it. Most of them got arrested and got charged and we opened the next day for lunch with no front door, that’s quite an
unusual service. Because I came and said these guys are not going to beat us and we are going to re-put the restaurant together
and keep going.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Brett Graham, Restaurant The Ledbury, [London]