Bring it on, Bill
FOOD FILE:STRUTH MATE, what’s that barbie-loving, barefoot-in-the-sand TV chef Bill Granger doing in the wellies, cooking root veg? No, climate change hasn’t turned things upside down in Sydney, the answer is that Granger relocated to a 17th-century house in the Cotswolds for the month-long shoot for his latest cookery cook, Feed Me Now, which is a collection of quick and easy recipes for family meals.
“I was inspired to make food that was a bit different; some people think my food is just summer food, so I wanted to do something else,” says the 40-year-old, who plans to relocate to London later this year with his wife Natalie and three young daughters, leaving his chain of bills restaurants – three in Sydney and one in a suburb of Tokyo, in the hands of his managers. “We’re just ready for a bit of a change,” he says.
“We’re going to try to do a restaurant. I love casual dining and it’ll be a breakfast, lunch and dinner place, so it will be similar to Bill’s Restaurant in Australia or Japan, they’ve got a similar feel. You take something from the local environment and give it its own twist.”
Granger is undaunted by the difficulties of opening a restaurant in a recession. “I think in a way it’s actually better because there’s not mad competition for sites, and rents are more realistic. People are looking for something that’s a bit more relaxed. I think we’ve got over that super-glamorous dining of the past five years, of things being more and more formal. Suddenly, simple things feel right to me. I started Bill’s in the recession of 1992. It’s that basic thing of good food in a simple environment served by someone who smiles.”
Granger’s first restaurant in the UK might not be in London. “We went down to Dorset to Mark Hix’s restaurant, and it was beautiful, a bit like home. We’re just going to come on a bit of an adventure. Restaurants are like houses – when you go into a place and it feels like home – finding a restaurant is a bit like that.”
The month in the Cotswolds, shooting photographs for the book, seems to have cemented Granger’s decision to move, and he’s looking forward to the life change, and even to the weather. “We’ll have a different sort of life. I find European cities incredibly charismatic and beautiful, and the lifestyle is heaven, being able to walk to restaurants in beautiful old buildings. I love the romance of that. In Sydney, everything happens outdoors, but I love being cosy and internal, too. The sun drives you crazy sometimes, and you find yourself saying, ‘not another bright day’.”
Granger grew up in Melbourne, with a father who was a butcher and a mother who was vegetarian, and his wife, Natalie, also did not eat meat when they met 10 years ago. So what converted her? “My cooking,” he shoots back. “And now she’s the biggest carnivore I know.”
So far, none of Granger’s three young daughters – Edie (8), Inès (6) and Bunny (5), are vegetarian. “But I’m waiting for it though, for one of them to say ‘I’m not eating that’. And I know the one, too, the one who will have a little dig at Daddy. I’ll just have to bite my tongue.”
Cooking was never in Granger’s career plans as a student. He studied architecture for a while, and moved to fine art. “Art school really opened up my brain; it was just about pure creativity. My great love was large-scale drawings.” By the time he was 22, Granger had opened his first restaurant. He doesn’t regret his change of direction, and says modestly that he enjoys being “a small business owner”.
His interest in art and design means he’s very much involved in the production of his books, and Feed Me Now, his seventh, is a delight. “I love the colours and the feel of it. I think it’s really tactile,” he says.
It’s a good read, too, and the recipes reflect the new, cooler climate that Granger is embracing. “You want to cook different things just by the nature of the different ingredients. I have kept the flavours of what I do – the lightness and a bit of sharpness – but just a bit softer and richer, too.”