Bill Granger
Bill Granger Image Credit: insyta/bill.granger

Bill Granger, Australian chef who put avocado toast on the menu, dies at 54

Australian chef and restaurateur Bill Granger, who pioneered Aussie brunch culture and elevated avocado toast to widespread popularity, died Dec. 25 at a hospital in London. He was 54.

The Melbourne-born chef died peacefully on Christmas Day, with his wife and three daughters by his side, the family said in a statement posted on Instagram. A cause of death was not given.

His family said he would be remembered as the "King of Breakfast." He made "unpretentious food into something special," the statement read, and spurred "the growth of Australian informal and communal eating around the world."

Mr. Granger was a prolific producer of cookbooks and television shows, but his most well-known contribution may be his popularization of a simple dish that went global and became associated with the millennial generation: avocado toast, or "smashed avo," as it is likely to be titled on a menu in his home country.

After dropping out of art school in 1993, Mr. Granger moved to Sydney and opened his first restaurant, Bills, which became known for its fresh style of breakfast and brunch fare. A self-taught cook, he went on to find success as a global restaurateur and food writer in a career that spanned more than three decades.

Bills went international in 2008, starting in Tokyo, and today, the neighborhood cafe has 19 branches in cities across the world, including London and Seoul. Mr. Granger also published 14 cookbooks and hosted five TV cooking shows.

When he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia this year, for services to tourism and hospitality, one Australian newspaper joked that the honor was for "Services To Avocado On Toast." The dish as it is known today began to take hold in the early 1990s, and Mr. Granger's version at Bills might have been the first recorded sighting of avocado toast on a menu.

In 1999, British food writer Nigel Slater suggested in his column for the Guardian a recipe for smashed avocado on toast, paving the way for the brunch staple's rise to pop-culture prominence.

Mr. Granger said he can't take all the credit. "Avocado was on a list of sides that went with toast," he told Broadsheet in 2015. "So I'll give credit for the creation of the dish to our customers who put it together."

Mr. Granger is survived by his wife and business partner, Natalie Elliott, and their three daughters, Edie, Ins and Bunny. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

On Wednesday, fellow chefs including Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson remembered Mr. Granger for his extraordinary ease, as well as his shining exuberance and generosity.

"Bill's philosophy of making delicious food accessible for everyone has never aged," Australian culinary travel journalist Sofia Levin told The Washington Post. "His legacy of bright, inclusive cooking will undoubtedly live on in his cafes, cookbooks and our kitchens."

Australian cook Adam Liaw wrote on social media that Granger's "'sunny' (his word, not mine) codification of Australian cafe culture at bills is the model on which every Australian cafe around the world is now built."

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review this year, Mr. Granger said he associated avocado toast with the can-do feeling of sunny Sydney mornings. "I grew up in Melbourne," he said, "and when I moved to Sydney, I was shocked by its morning life." "People were on the beach, walking through the park, owning the day. It felt very Australian, very optimistic."

"I think avocado on toast is optimistic."