Bill Granger, the Chef Who Made Avocado Toast Mainstream, on Australian Food
Since opening his first restaurant, Bills, in Sydney in 1993, few people have done more for the global understanding of how Australia eats than the Melbourne-born, self-taught chef Bill Granger, commonly (though, he’ll politely say, not necessarily correctly) known as the man who gave the world avocado toast. Now, decades into his career—with additional eateries in Honolulu, London, Seoul, and Tokyo—he’s plating his native cuisine for the world in the form of the new cookbook Australian Food (Murdoch Books), a delicious collection of wholesome recipes including one-bowl meals, chopped salads, and fish dishes. We recently spoke with Granger about the immigrant foodways that shaped Australian cooking into what it is today.
Over the last twenty years, you’ve authored ten books—none of which squarely tackle the topic of Australian food. What prompted you to write about the subject now?
The idea of thinking about Australian food started a few years ago, when I was getting lots of calls from big media outlets in the U.S., [asking me to] talk about avocado toast. It got me thinking, What is Australian food? It’s not really a dish—it’s not like British or French food. It’s more of the Italian or Asian idea of food, where good food is for everyone. Everyone eats well in Australia.
How would you describe the origins of contemporary Australian food?
Post-World War II, there was the worry that we’d get taken over by a foreign invader—so there was a huge push to increase the population in Australia. That brought in many people, mainly from southern European countries, which really flipped things. Australia is so far away, and you couldn’t travel in those days, so going to restaurants in the city became a big part of the culture.
Was there a particular cuisine that helped kick off Australia’s food revolution during that era?
The explosion of the Asian population really changed Australia’s cuisine. That was the biggest influence, I think: big dim sum restaurants that are noisy, buzzy, and casual, with an attitude of doing things quickly and cheaply. Australians don’t do formal very well.
With so many cultures influencing the culinary offerings in Australia, how has the country gained confidence in its food?
We take food and make it our own. We never think of any food as “foreign”—it just becomes part of who we are. We absorb cultures, and then relax them. We want new flavors and want to change. Australian food is never set.