BILL GRANGER became famous for his eggs. He's a successful restaurateur, his books are international bestsellers and his TV series is shown in 22 countries worldwide but his legendary status hangs on that deceptively simple dish, scrambled eggs. Every weekend sees queues outside his famously laid back cafe, bills (the disregard for punctuation is deliberate) in the trendy Darlinghurst suburb, eager to sample the perfectly creamy concoctions. It's ironic then that he was only recently able to enjoy them again on a trip to Japan.
"I am very famous for my eggs!" the 37year-old Australian chef, dubbed the 'egg master of Sydney' by The New York Times, beams. "But I've made so many of them I've found it really hard to eat them for years. It's been eight years since I've sat down and had a plate of eggs and I really enjoyed them because of a textural thing.
Texture in food to me is really interesting and eggs are really interesting in your mouth . . . they're really soft and light and fluffy."
His enthusiasm is infectious. For those not familiar with Granger, he is the anti-Marco Pierre White. He doesn't do moody or expletives (think perpetually sunny outlook on life instead) nor does he do overtly complicated food. Viewers of his TV series, bills food are treated to vignettes of an enviable life . . . Bill in his beautiful beachfront house; Bill cooking with his cute daughters; Bill going for a swim then rustling up some simple, delicious feast for friends. You'd like to hate him but it would be churlish to do so in the face of such unremitting bonhomie. Neither can you ignore the fact that his recipes are great, all with his trademark simplicity but never so pedestrian that they could be considered unimaginative . . .
roast chicken with coriander chilli stuffing and coconut gravy, for example, or roast beef sandwiches with olive caper relish. He's regularly called the antipodean Jamie Oliver, a comparison he doesn't mind. "I think Jamie's wonderful, I'm very flattered and charmed. I do think we do quite similar things, both everyday cooking, " he says, "Fancy special occasion food, that bores me, I'm not so interested. I like good food as part of my everyday life, and just that simplicity."
Granger never formally trained as a chef, and initially studied art. He didn't like the solitary nature of being an artist and when he started working in restaurants to pay his way through college, he fell in love with the collaborative nature of working in a kitchen and launched bills in 1992, aged 22 and subsequently opened two more cafes. While he concedes that food is driven by fashion, and his three restaurants are certainly hotspots, this is not where he finds his inspiration. That comes from his family. "All you've got to do is have integrity and like what you do yourself and if you try and second-guess what people want, I think that's when you get in trouble, " is his philosophy. "You just have to do what you like, what you want to do and what feels right for you. That's what I do. My cookbooks are about cooking food for my family."
Granger is married to Nathalie, a TV producer who works with him and they have three daughters, Edie (7), Ines (5) and Bunny (3). "I'm lucky, " he says of his working partnership with his wife. "I very much have the role of being the creative in the business and she makes it happen." The family eat together every day and it's something that he works very hard at. "I take my role as a father very, very seriously, " he says. "I think you've got to start the patterns really early but when you've got young kids, sometimes Nat and I look at each other and say we'd love a grown-up dinner with a glass of wine but we persevered with the kids and even when we're going out for dinner with friends, I sit down at the table while they eat. I don't do anything else, I don't clean up, I don't wander around, I sit because it's time to talk and eat."
His new book is called Holiday but while the tone is celebratory, it still espouses his everyday philosophy. A trip down Granger's own memory lane, this is his attempt to create a food history for his own family. "Food is such an important part of our personal lives, " he explains. "People say, 'Remember on this holiday when we ate this?' and when you have this meal again, it brings back that memory of being away. It's not about cooking holiday or celebration food, it's more about bringing those memories back. Even though it's my personal journey, there are good recipes here and so it's about giving it back to other people."
Although his father was a butcher, Granger grew up in a home without any food culture.
"Food was not a part of our personal vocabulary, it wasn't important. We never sat down as a family to eat, my brother and I. My mother was a vegetarian which sounds funny but food was very much a source of friction."
And if the sun-drenched, bare-foot, beachfront life presented on the television and in books is . . . bar a bit of TV magic . . . an approximation of his reality now, life wasn't not always this way. Diagnosed as bipolar at the age of seven, his mother was in and out of psychiatric hospitals right throughout his childhood. "I just reached a point where I said I want to take control of my life and do it as I want to do it." It's what he's done with food. "I think food gives great pleasure, and you remember the joy factor of food and what it can bring to your life. You've got to do it three times a day and eating well and really enjoying it . . . not just sitting down in front of the TV or throwing a sandwich on the desk but actually making every meal have importance and meaning, it can still be quick but it's important to your general enjoyment of life. That's what I try to do and I can sometimes be annoyingly chirpy and smiley so I try and tone it down! But it is just my attitude to it and I enjoy myself."
But what exactly is his aversion to punctuation? "I never really thought about it . . . I just wrote it and I just liked the way it looked. I was that age and it was a fashion thing, it was as superficial as that. It's gotten to the stage where I couldn't put 'bill' in lower case without an apostrophe on a book again so I've become BILL GRANGER in capitals."
BAKED EGGS WITH SPINACH AND PARMESAN
"There's an intimacy about breakfast that I think can't be recaptured in even the most expensive restaurant dinner" Serves 4 1 tbsp olive oil 200g (7 oz) baby spinach leaves Sea salt Freshly ground black pepper 8 eggs 4 tbsp cream 4 tbsp grated parmesan To serve: toast Preheat the oven to 2000C (gas 6).
Lightly grease four 9cm ramekins and place them on a baking tray.
Heat a saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan, then add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the leaves are just softened. Drain the spinach in a colander and, as soon as it's cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid. Spoon the spinach into the ramekins and break two eggs into each ramekin on top of the spinach. Pour 1 tablespoon of cream over the eggs and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes or until the eggs are set and puffed up. Season and serve immediately with toast.