Coogee Hotel kitchen garden thrives

1OCTOBER2019
In this month's Soundings newsletter we explore the amazing garden flourishing at the old Coogee Hotel, now called Coogee Common. This is a longer version of that article which marks preparations for the historic hotel's reopening as a restuarant and bar late next summer.
 
Coogee Common’s uncommon offerings already a hit with diners
 
Every passionate kitchen cook knows the priceless value of fresh produce to the flavour of a finished dish and you can’t get much fresher than fruit and veg grown in your own backyard.
 
It’s something the Spearwood area became famous for early last century and this valued tradition has been revived on the footprint of a former market garden surrounding the old Coogee Hotel.

Coogee Common – the brainchild of owners restaurateur Nic Trimboli and developer Adrian Fini, responsible for Fremantle’s eternally popular Bread in Common – the refurbished and reinvigorated 118-year-old hotel will open its doors to diners late next summer, but its sprawling kitchen garden has already earned its keep.

It has been supplying fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit for daily Bread in Common menus since last September and will become the main produce source for the Coogee eatery when it opens.

Coogee Common and Bread in Common General Manager, chef Scott Brannigan, who established the Coogee garden 12 months ago, works with gardener Jack Olsen.

Together they strategise plantings around seasonal menus. Its Mediterranean-style winter garden was brimming with artichoke, cauliflower, baby carrots, kale, spigarello, rhubarb, kohlrabi, fennel, radish, beetroot, beans and sweet potato, including many heirloom varieties.

Following the removal of rocky topsoil, the 1.5ha sloping site was terraced and filled with friable material to complement the legendary ‘Spearwood red’ soil, and then shielded from the often fierce Fremantle Doctor with Geraldton wax and rosemary hedges.

Its bountiful produce graces every Bread in Common diner’s plate with a hero item whether it be vegetable, herb or fruit grown just down the road at the old hotel site.

Olsen, a Bateman local who recently returned to WA from the US to raise his young family, formerly completing a Philosophy Major at Berry College, Georgia, harvests crops from the garden three days a week.

With Brannigan, he teams hands-on gardening with populating spread sheets to plan how much of what seasonal crops will be needed to supply both restaurants, with the timing of crop readiness, their dollar value and cost, all essential to a truly productive commercial kitchen garden.

Olsen currently works out of the tiny former Post Office but will eventually have his own new purpose-built office and greenhouse adjacent to the main building. The post office will be repurposed, possibly becoming a wine barrel room/cellar for ageing spirits or vinegars. Worm farms, rainwater tanks and rotating compost piles are commonplace in this working kitchen garden.

To say Brannigan, a Hami Hill local, is passionate about fresh food and produce is an understatement. For the Coogee garden, he has salvaged two 40-50 year old fig trees from Pickering Brook and Scarborough where they were rescued from gardens and development sites, plus olive trees from Gingin.

He cultivates relationships with the farmers he sources supplies from, and favours unwashed potatoes (the best way to store them) from a Manjimup farmer, and fetta from a small Gingin operator with eight hand-milked goats, whose neighbours grow finger limes and pomegranates that he eagerly snaffles for the Bread in Common kitchen.

And he’s not above foraging for naturally occurring foods like the slippery jack mushrooms he had an inkling would be flourishing near pine trees along South Street, and he wasn’t wrong – they starred in a fennel and chestnut salad.

A happy consequence of working with fresh produce are daily menu changes, much as Brannigan was taught while working for the UK Soho group, with produce from their own walled gardens often dictating different day and night menus, skills learned during a tough apprenticeship 7am-11pm/ 5 days a week.

Brannigan and Olsen are now focused on the garden’s purpose for the warmer months, tending perennials like pomegranate, dragon fruit, citrus, passionfruit, grapes and herbs plus an abundance of melon, zucchini, squash, tomato and peppers that will feature on Coogee Common menus when the hotel comes full circle to reopen as a local gathering place around late February 2020. 
  
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