Brett Graham: 'I never really realised how much this restaurant meant to people'

The  Staff Canteen

Sally Abé and Brett Graham discuss sustainability in animal agriculture and the return of the Ledbury

In this week’s episode of Grilled by The Staff Canteen Co-host Sally Abé, chef at The Pem, was joined by Brett Graham, chef-owner of The Ledbury.

Sustainability & Farming

Since The Ledbury closed, in 2020, Brett has kept himself busy but this time with a focus on the farming side of the industry. During the last two years, the chef has come to appreciate the difficulties and complexities of the process behind getting the produce to the restaurants.

He said: “As chefs, we always think we're the hardest working people, in any industry, because we do work unsociable hours but  farmers, I think, are worse off than us they don't get their days off - they work all hours god sends. 

“Agriculture is a really tough business to get into, the margins are tiny, you wouldn't even open a restaurant if the margins were that small, the dedication is massive.”

Along with that, the current situation has made it even more difficult to be a farmer, as Brett said, “the challenges they're facing in the current situation, with the war; the fertiliser crisis and feed crisis are just hammering them so hard.

“The energy bills, everything you need - diesel, fertiliser, wheat, seeds, whatever - it's all being affected at the moment and all going one way. So, it's gonna make agriculture even more difficult, especially for small farmers who have very small runs of production.”

‘They don't know where their food comes from’

Brett said: “What we put in our mouths has always been something that chefs have been looking at, in a delicious way, but what I've been looking at more is what animals put in their mouths because it's just as important.”

Throughout his time learning about the farming industry the chef has come to understand where the feed used for animals comes from; a lot of it is imported soy from Brazil and Monocultures from the United States.

He has come to terms with the lack of knowledge that most people have about where the food that feeds our food comes from.

He said: “I think it's crazy that nobody really realises. On one hand people are saying 'save the rainforest' or 'make a difference' or 'slow down climate change' while they don't know where their food comes from in any way, shape, or form.”

Brett is also concerned by consumers moving away from meat and animal products altogether, he said: “Animal agriculture is being really bashed around a lot lately and there is good animal agriculture, fantastic animal agriculture and stuff that's not so good. The stuff that's not so good is things that's done in huge numbers, under lots of pressure, partly created by big companies.”

He added: “There's lots of bad vegetable agriculture as well, namely spraying glycoside on the ground and then insecticides, pesticides, liquid nitrogen, and then fantastic grass-fed meats that don't require any of those things.”

The Return of the Ledbury

When The Ledbury closed back in 2020, due to the issues with a small venue and the social distancing requirements, Brett had no plans to reopen later. He very much thought that this was the end of the Ledbury.

Brett said: “I just left it and thought 'that could be it'. I didn't make any decisions; I just waited and saw what was going to happen. Then the coast looked a bit clear, and I said 'right, let's go again.’”

Like many restaurants reopening after the pandemic, The Ledbury is also working with fewer working hours. This change Brett explained was because with the staffing issues and his other commitments not doing that isn’t sustainable.

He said: "We’ve obviously got a lot [fewer] working hours now because it has to be sustainable long term, I'm not 25 anymore, and especially with this staff crisis that everybody seems to be having at the moment working 14 shifts a week is not gonna put me in a very good position with my family."

Brett explained that it was difficult to come back to the restaurant. But this wasn't because of the complexities of opening the restaurant. Instead, the difficulty, he said was, “the thought of coming back […] it was slightly anxiety-provoking because of pressure and because of the thought of being judged every day.”

With the last opening, Brett was a lot less experienced and was worried about failure a lot more than this time.

Brett said: “The second opening was much more smooth. I was much more prepared. When I opened the first one I just had no experience. I had no idea what was going on.

“I was less worried [about failure] this time because, obviously, we already had some sort of reputation that I knew would help us get started at least.”

As Brett isn’t on social media, he had no idea about the excitement that the restaurant coming back had caused.

Brett said: “I felt, when I came back, like [I was] seeing some old friends again [with] all the regulars.”

“I never really realised how much this restaurant meant to people.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th June 2022

Brett Graham: 'I never really realised how much this restaurant meant to people'