Chef Analiese Gregory: Cow whisperer, quiet achiever, hedgehog saint

Franklin chef Analiese Gregory has developed a love affair with Tasmania, foraging and diving on her days off.
Franklin chef Analiese Gregory has developed a love affair with Tasmania, foraging and diving on her days off. Photo: Adam Gibson

Maybe you think you have an idea of this chef, who keeps the wood fires burning at grill-driven locavore restaurant Franklin, Hobart. Maybe you've read interviews about her pop-up restaurant in Morocco. The way she headed up the foraging program for a season at Michel Bras in rural France. Her time mastering gels with chef Andoni Aduriz at Mugaritz in San Sebastian. The fact her father is noted Kiwi chef Mark Gregory. Or maybe you tried the midnight sandwich at Bar Brose, the Sydney restaurant/bar she opened with the ACME crew.

But what you may not know is that the Auckland-born chef is painfully shy, a bit of a loner, highly anxious and much prefers the company of animals to people.

As a kid, her parents called her the Cow Whisperer. One of her favourite things to do was take a pile of books out to a field at the family's dairy farm in the middle of New Zealand's North Island, finds a comfy patch of grass and read aloud to the cows, who would respond by licking her face. "It's kind of ironic," she says, "considering I'm lactose-intolerant."

Analiese Gregory (third from right) during her Quay days, with chef Peter Gilmore and the rest of the Quay team.
Analiese Gregory (third from right) during her Quay days, with chef Peter Gilmore and the rest of the Quay team.  Photo: Nicky Ryan

Gregory started her cooking career in New Zealand after leaving school at 15, cutting her teeth at Wellington fine-diner Logan Brown. When she eventually made her way to Australia via France and England, she landed in the pastry section at Quay before working her way up to sous chef. It was here that people started to notice her work.

Not that the young chef had any interest at the time in being on anyone's radar. She didn't even want to leave the pastry section at Quay until an exodus of staff left chef Peter Gilmore short-handed in the savoury kitchen. "At the time I was super-resistant," says Gregory. "I was like, 'I'm happy where I am. I have my little pastry section in the corner. I don't want to go.' And then Pete just put me on the roster in the kitchen. I was really shitty about it.

"In hindsight, I'm so pleased he did that. I guess Pete's good at spotting talent. Because I was just a 22-year-old girl working in the pastry section, and he was like, 'OK, she's going to be my next sous chef.' "

I came back for a relationship, and then it turned out that I had spent so much time overseas that I had destroyed it.

Analiese Gregory

Gregory describes herself back then as "extremely intense". In the five years she spent working at Quay, people would constantly tell her she'd burn out before hitting 30. Instead, she knuckled down. When Gilmore and restaurateur John Fink approached her to run their next restaurant, she freaked. "I got so anxious about it that one day I just walked into the office and said, 'I can't do it. I just want to stay here.'"

Soon after, Gregory resigned to cook with chef Michel Bras – his eponymous restaurant, in Laguiole, southern France, held three Michelin stars at the time. "You'd go to the garden and the gardeners would have been through with Michel the day before, deciding what was was OK to be picked. And everything else you would leave to recover. People always speak about working with produce, but I'd never really understood, to be totally honest. It sounds so cliched, but it really did change how I saw things. I would go to Michel and say, 'I've got three nasturtium flowers.' And he'd say, 'OK, so three people get a nasturtium flower. Aren't they lucky?' "

Gregory stayed at Bras for an entire season and, left to her own devices, she probably would have stayed there for good. But she had a partner in Sydney who was asking her to come home, and she'd been away nearly a year, including her time working in the research and development kitchen at Mugaritz. So she made her way back to Australia, but not before doing a three-month stint running a pop-up restaurant in Morocco.

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The animal lover had a swift education in How Things Are In Fes when it comes to sourcing meat (it turns up live on your doorstep unless you specify otherwise), which often meant she'd have a vegetable-based menu at the 38-seat restaurant.

She did have a pigeon guy, though, who would give her the best seat in the house as they strangled, then plucked, 40-odd pigeons, ready for dinner service that night. "I was their best customer. Everyone else in the medina were home cooks; the Moroccan women would probably only take two pigeons."

Some days were a little more confronting than others. "One day, they pulled down this cage from above the counter and showed it to me, and they're like, 'Hedgehog'. I don't think they were prepared for my reaction – I really love hedgehogs. I went back to work and told someone about it, and they're like, 'Look Analiese, if you buy all the hedgehogs to set them free, they'll just recapture them and sell them to other people.' I was really sad, because I had this idea that I was going to free them in the medina. And I'd be the hedgehog saint."

Unfortunately, all that time away took its toll on her personal life. "I came back for a relationship, and then it turned out that I had spent so much time overseas that I had destroyed it. I had this idea that I was doing it for the greater good. It took me a long time to realise that even going and doing those things was being selfish. I chose to put work over my partner."

This non-prescriptive path she's taken may have broken a long-term relationship, but it's helped build her into the chef she is today. One who has an affinity with her surrounding environment, whose dishes walk a tightrope between bold flavour and restrained technique. As a person, she's developed a love affair with Tasmania, foraging and diving on her days off, living 45 minutes out of town with her rabbit, ducks and a flock of geese that just turned up one day and never left.

"Now at Franklin, I'm quietly happy about what I've done. I can work with spices because of [my time in] Morocco, and I know that I can use every f---ing gel and hydrocolloid under the sun and I can make f---ing silicon moulds in the form of sea urchins if I want to. I know that I can do all those things. But I can choose what I want to do now. And I choose not to do those things."

Quick-fire corner

After-midnight snack: I throw some potato bread dough in the wood-fired oven at Franklin, and then stick copious amounts of anchovy dressing, cheese and other tasty things on it, and then stick it in a takeaway container and eat it while I drive home.

Kitchen weapon at work: A sharp Japanese knife. Nothing goes past it.

Formative food moment: For my 18th birthday, I made my boyfriend take me to Pierre Gagnaire. It was my first three-Michelin-star experience, and my first time in France. It blew my mind.

Non-cooking ninja skill: All my best ninja skills are illegal.