Bill Granger likes breakfast.
The Australian chef has built an international food empire on his ricotta hotcakes, corn fritters and creamy scrambled eggs.
According to Granger, back in Sydney on a flying visit, dinner fashions change but breakfasts are forever.
“People don’t like to change breakfast as much as they like to change dinner. Dinner fashions change – breakfast never does.”
So when Granger opens a Bills in Seoul in June, will ricotta hotcakes be on the menu?
“Yes, those ricotta hotcakes are never going off,” he says. “They’ve been on the menu for 20 years – over 20 years – and they’re not changing.”
At 44, Granger remains affable and eternally youthful. Cooking for a dinner party might fluster most of us, but Granger can take the heat in the kitchen.
His cookbooks, columns and TV shows make it all look so easy. The secret, he says, is not to stress or show off.
“I just try to relax. Food is about joy really. It’s about communicating and having fun.”
As some catty critics have noted, there’s nothing difficult about Granger’s food. A competent amateur cook can walk into any Bills (including the original one in inner Sydney’s Darlinghurst) and think: “I could do this.”
The self-taught Granger agrees: “What I do is very much home cooking … I think it’s just what people want.”
He also thinks his sort of “everyday” food, with its emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce is healthier than richer restaurant fare.
Granger has spent a week in Sydney working in a community garden, putting his name behind an “Eat Real” campaign to encourage more community gardens on under-used council land and nature strips.
If more people grew just a fraction of their own food, they would be happier and healthier, Granger says: “When you grow your own fruit and vegetables you just understand the beauty of unprocessed food.”
A cherry tomato, picked fresh and “warmed by the sun” is a taste sensation that’s “hard to beat even in a top restaurant.”
It goes naturally with Granger’s natural palate: “Over many years I’ve just worked out for myself that if I eat lots of fruit and vegetables and grilled lean meats and whole grains, stay away from processed white stuff and walk an hour a day it’s pretty good for maintaining your health. I think it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.”
Granger, whose father and grandfather were butchers, started off in his native Melbourne as an architecture student. He soon moved to Sydney to study fine arts, working part-time in a cafe.
As a keen amateur cook with an entrepreneurial streak, he borrowed $20,000 from his grandfather to open a restaurant, cooking the simple food he enjoyed – including those hotcakes.
“I found a site that could only open breakfast and lunch six days a week,” he says.
It was “very much like coming into my home kitchen for breakfast” – and the formula took off. So, 21 years down the track, how many restaurants does Granger have?
“I’ve lost track too,” he laughs. “There’s four in Japan, three in Sydney, we’re about to have two and then another in London, one in Hawaii. So it’s growing. And we’re about to open one in South Korea.”
He makes a point of opening in countries where he likes the local cuisine: “Korea has AMAZING food … and Hawaii is amazing. It’s a big surprise.”
So where is home these days?
“Oh, it’s in between,” Granger says. “The kids are at school in London, so that’s sort of the main base at the moment.”
Granger and his wife, Natalie, have three daughters. The oldest who is about to turn 14, sometimes cooks for her famous dad.
Granger is modest about his success, paying tribute to his “teams”, not least his wife.
“It might be Bills, but it very much the `Bill and Natalie show’,” he says. “She’s the producer, I’m the director.”