Origins of Brett Graham

Even back in his native Australia, the two-Michelin-starred chef behind The Ledbury had a fascination for the family chickens. Today, that family includes Iberian pigs, assorted deer, Jersey cows and even some bees


In the Nineties, Australian food wasn’t really into provenance so I don’t have the stories some chefs have about picking apricots in the orchard, but we did have a few chickens and I was fascinated about their eggs, and how we could cook them straightaway. I wanted to be a vet first, and restaurants was second choice, but that was where I got the first opportunity.


My first job was at a place called Scratchleys on the Wharf. They did a fisherman’s basket, platters – it was a proper crowd pleaser in what was then a working-class town. Newcastle is a bit more commuter-belt now, but it’s a beautiful place with stunning beaches, and the restaurant is still there and I’m still mates with the owner.


I won a competition to work in a fine-dining restaurant for a week in Sydney and couldn’t believe what they did to food: peeling asparagus, passing mash potato through twice – so much effort. There were people who had worked at Le Manoir and there was so much energy, I wanted to be part of it. One of the chefs, Liam Tomlin, gave me a job at his new restaurant, Banc. It was the hardest job I’ve had, but had a profound effect.

The Square

I won another chef competition and the prize was a trip to London, where I joined Phil Howard at The Square. It was so different: the weather, starting and finishing the day in the dark, but Phil was wonderful. I learnt about the seasons – in Australia you could have strawberries all year, but here there was a small window, and the same with venison, fish. Phil would fish for trout and then put it on the lunch menu. It was an eye opener to see 10kg turbot, langoustines, black truffles… The produce blew me away.


After I won young chef of the year in 2002 (Brett's only entered three competitions and won them all), Phil came to me about buying a restaurant with me as head chef, and while we waited to get the site running, I went travelling with my girlfriend [now wife]. Vietnam really inspired me with its vibrancy and ingredients. But then, I think all travel inspires you, and how you cook, whether it’s Cambodia and Laos or New Zealand and Canada.


At The Ledbury I’ve always had a huge passion for venison. I was always looking at all different breeds – roe, muntjac, fallow, Japanese sika – and different ways to cook it. It was the same for wild animals in general; I’d go shooting for grouse, then pluck them in the restaurant and get them on to the menu.

L’ Arpège

I remember eating gazpacho at L’Arpège, and then I had Dover sole, and I put my knife and fork down and said to my sous chef, ‘Those two dishes are the best I’ve had in my life; if another dish is that good, then I’m going to retire.’ You have to be inspired by Alain Passard, who’s been doing this for 40 years. He did a beetroot dish baked in salt crust and it made me realise you can cook vegetables in different ways – we’ve had a signature of white beetroot baked in clay that followed from that inspiration.

Iberian pigs

We bought some deer in 2017 for our first deer park, and now we have three deer parks, and we sold 1,500 venison carcasses last year. We’ve also got 20 bee hives, two pig places with 500 Iberian pigs, some Jersey cows, and we press our own rapeseed oil – we just did about 29 tonnes. We know fine dining is hard to be sustainable, but we have focused on caring just as much about what the animals put into their mouths as we put into ours. I want to feed people better – we catered at Ascot and they bought 10,000 hot dogs made from our Iberian pigs, and I want football stadiums to use rapeseed oil to fry their chips in. We shouldn’t be buying oil from other countries to cook our chips in when we can produce it here.

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