maître d’ - A Rising Star - The Ledbury

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Take one masterfully creative chef with a meteoric climb, add a manager who won personal honours for her commitment to service, and a staff full of youthful exuberance – and the final dish is decadence.

The chef is Brett Graham, armed with arrangements as delicious to the eye as the palate and an earnest commitment to customer satisfaction. It’s haute cuisine, but Graham’s cooking philosophy is astonishingly simple. “I like to cook seasonal food with interesting flavours, but not too wacky,” he declares, noting an affinity for game and vegetables. “Interesting, but not weird.”

Conceding he had “no interest in food” before a two-week work experience while in school, Chef Graham took to cooking quickly, earning Australia’s Josephine Pignolet Award for outstanding young chef while working under mentor Liam Tomlin at the esteemed Banc restaurant in Sydney.

Soon he was in the UK, working under the well-regarded Philip Howard at The Square, where he would win the Young Chef of the Year Award.And so, when The Ledbury opened in 2005, Chef Graham was put in charge of what The Times classified as a dining experience with a ‘hushed, moneyed feel’, with a cuisine suitably appropriate for upmarket Notting Hill, but at a reasonable cost.

As for the food itself, delights range from foie gras with pear to grilled mackerel and lamb with wild garlic, and a passion fruit mousse that must be tasted to be believed. Chef Graham’s mastery of combinations is evident in a perfectly textured risotto of squid with cauliflower, sherry, and pine nuts.

Graham’s approach “keeps evolving, even as a head chef. As I’ve grown, I’ve embraced different ingredients. Which makes it fun.” Among these are the Crapaudine, a colossal French beet baked and presented in clay, and served with smoked white balsamic emulsion, goat’s curd and herbs.

The Ledbury has now earned two elusive Michelin Stars, the second only just awarded in January, 2010. Plaudits are a reflection of the team’s efforts, of course. But here, it’s all about the customers. “To be honest, we don’t brag about stars,” says Ledbury manager Sarah Cooper, who won the British Hospitality Association’s Young Waiter competition last year. “Our main concern is [that] the customers come in, feel relaxed, and have a great dinner.”

Chef Graham concurs as he looks ahead. The plan is not grandiose. Rather, it’s much like his cooking – carefully crafted and grounded, yet ambitious. “We want the food and service to evolve nice and gently,” he says. “Something we might spend weeks talking about, may only make a one or two percent difference to customers. But if you do that a few times a year it makes a big difference.”

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