Chef profile: Analiese Gregory’s path to Bar Brose
Now at the helm of one of Sydney’s most innovative venues, Bar Brose, Analiese Gregory reflects on learning by the rules before learning to break them. By Madeline Woolway.
When Analiese Gregory left school at 15, in the throes of what she describes as her ‘teenage delinquent years’, it was partly because she thought she would like kitchen life but equally an effort to escape the regimen an all-girl school.
“I was interested in cooking as kid, but not as a profession. I just liked being independent and doing things for myself,” said Gregory. “You’re only allowed to leave in New Zealand if you’re going to a tertiary institute. I got accepted into a Diploma of Cooking; I just decided I was going to do it and I left. I think I just wanted to get out.
“I don’t think I knew what I was getting into, but I was prepared to do whatever they wanted me to do.”
And so, while completely the Diploma, Gregory worked at the local Sheraton hotel doing all the things no one else wanted to do, like graveyard shifts and breakfast shifts, before working at Logan Brown in Wellington for 18 months, after which she moved to England and worked briefly with her dad, chef Mark Gregory, eventually finding herself in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants.
The finer things
Despite escaping the confines of school, Gregory wasn’t completely free from regimen.
“Those kitchens are very old school. I suppose it’s similar to school in that you follow rules, everyone has their place, everyone knows their place and you progress from one stage to the next one,” she said.
After working at The Ledbury when it first opened, Gregory spent time at Le Maurice in France before heading back to New Zealand to open to help her dad open a hotel, which led her to Sydney.
“I came to Sydney for the weekend, for a quick holiday. I ate around, I think I went to Marque and Bentley and I was like ‘wow the food culture here is amazing’. It just seemed so forward thinking back then.”
Deciding to stay, Gregory became the pastry chef at Bentley before starting a four and half year stint at Quay, which would end when she left to take up residence at her ‘holy grail restaurant’ Maison Bras. Despite experiencing life in so many fine diners, Gregory isn’t quick to generalise about what the term means.
“I suppose, for me, fine dining is a certain style of service and certain way of doing things in the kitchen that’s about the relentless search for perfection. Whereas, when you’re running a wine bar or a modern bistro, if something’s not the same shape as something else, I don’t care. At a fine diner everyone has to have the same piece of fish. So if you have nine people at a table, they all have to have the head piece or the tail piece. You just have this consistency,” she told Hospitality.
It was at Michel Bras’ restaurant in the countryside of southern France, that Gregory began learning a new approach to fine dining.
“At Bras, they throw everything on its head.” said Gregory. “They have very high standards, but for things that won’t affect the flavour of dish, they think it doesn’t matter. If there’s only one herb left, it goes on someone’s plate, rather than being thrown in the bin.
“Normally in fine dining, there’s heaps of waste because, basically, you have to have three flowers for each dish. They all have to be the same. It’s either three flowers for each dish or no flowers. That’s what the public expects at places like that.”
To illustrate the point, Gregory tells a story about making the famed Bras’ Gargouillou salad.
“I was making the salad and I only had one day lily. Michel came over and said ‘okay so one person gets a day lily and they’re really lucky’. I was like, ‘don’t you want them all to be the same?’ And he said, ‘no it’ll be a different experience for every person.’
“I loved how malleable everything was.”
When the season ended at Bras, Gregory drove to San Sebastian in northern Spain to eat at Mugaritz and wound up staying for nine months.
“The first two months I was in the kitchen. It’s a service kitchen in the old school sense of the term. A lot of the food is prepared downstairs in another kitchen, then upstairs you’re actually just putting food onto the plates.
“The close the restaurant for about four to five months of the year to make a new menu, and they asked me to come back to work on development, so that’s what I did for six months.”
Reinventing the approach
Having spent so much time working under the brigade system in fine diners, Mugaritz offered Gregory an opportunity to finally dismantle the time-honoured norms of fine dining.
“I had this thing, when I was younger, where I worked for really good chefs and I was really good at doing what they said and doing my job, but I struggled to be creative – I felt like I didn’t know how to be. I went to Mugaritz because, from my perspective, they’re one of the most creative restaurants in the world from the menu to the techniques they use,” she said.
“There’s up to 50 stagers during the season, but then when the restaurant is closed there are about 10 people in the kitchen so it’s really quiet and all very chill. It’s about totally focusing on what you’re doing. There’s a library and internet. They encourage you to research everything before you start doing it, you don’t just go into the kitchen and start cooking.
“You get given a bunch of projects and you’re sent off to work on them, at your own pace, however you want, and you come back once a week to give them a breakdown of what you’ve achieved. You have all the equipment you could ever want, you can order pretty much whatever you want, and you can go out into the natural environment and forage for whatever you want.
“They also have this thing, like, if you think you’ve fucked something up, don’t throw it away, it might be amazing. No mistake is a bad thing there. When you start learning to think in a new way it’s difficult but then it just becomes second nature.”
Creating new standards
Back in Australia, via a stint in Morocco, Gregory joined the crew at ACME in Sydney’s Rushcutter’s Bay, before partnering with them to open Bar Brose.
“I went through a stage where I really wanted to use all the gels and moulds and liquid nitrogen, but now I’m quite anti all-that. I don’t even have xantham gum. I guess I’ve gone back to a more natural way of cooking, having gone through all the other ways. I still like cooking like all of it, like using anti-gridles at Mugartiz, but it’s not appropriate here – we’d need too many staff.
“So, the skills are mostly useless now. I’m very good at foraging flowers and fermenting them and making forks out of sugar, or making silicone moulds. I could apply them here and there are restaurants that do, but it’s a Mugaritz thing and I don’t want to.”
The way Gregory runs her kitchen is a little more lax then the kitchens she first learned to cook in, although she still recognises the benefits of a brigade system.
“Here there are four of us on any given day, up to six with two part timers. I had this really utopian idea where we would all be the same, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The industry has changed so much since I started cooking, I didn’t realise I’d be doing so many events, like pop-ups and food festivals. I did the Chinese New Year market for Kylie Kwong and then two days before that I was foraging in New Zealand, and before that I was in Taiwan.
“I’ll probably start looking for a sous chef, so that someone is clearly in charge when I’m not here.”
Bar Brose might not draw obvious parallels to the menus of fine diners like Quay, Maison Bras or Mugaritz, but the ethos does seem to be a summation Gregory’s experiences working for the world’s best chefs. Mostly though, it’s just her preferences, independent of others’ expectations or regimen.
“It’s all stuff I would want to eat in a wine bar – it’s tasty and it goes with wine. For me, that’s the link. It’s not so much Chinese or French. People are always asking me what Modern Australian is; I don’t even know. I don’t feel that weight,” said Gregory.
“I like how it is here now. I like how places like Ester and Automata and everyone is using a lot of Chinese techniques and Japanese ingredients, weaving them together. My view is that it makes things more interesting. I could have done classical French, which would be easy because it’s what I’ve learned, but then there would be nothing personal.”