When Chris Eales was offered the head chef position at Bread in Common in 2014, he wasn’t sure he was ready. At the time, the London-born chef had cooked primarily in British fine diners and regional gastropubs: smaller, less daunting prospects than a bustling bakery-slash-dining room that can, on a busy day, serve up to 950 guests from breakfast to dinner.
“Getting through that first year was very challenging but also very rewarding,” says Eales. After almost five years being mentored by Bread in Common’s executive chef, Scott Brannigan, Eales has taken the wheel and is now in charge of the high-energy Fremantle kitchen. Although Bread in Common’s modus operandi remains unchanged – bake great bread, ferret out great ingredients, cook them with plenty of flavour and minimum fuss – the restaurant’s new executive chef is looking forward to maintain the kitchen’s culture of training and development.
“It’s not very exciting to say business as usual, but I think, each year we’ve gotten better and better,” he says. “I’d like to see the people beneath me grow, for everyone to step up. Seeing people grow is the best thing in the industry.”
Although Brannigan – rebadged the venue’s general manager following Eales’s promotion – won’t be as hands on in the kitchen’s day-to-day, he’s still a key figure in the Bread in Common family, both at the mothership and at its soon-to-open Coogee Hotel reboot.
Since Broadsheet broke news of the venue’s purchase a year ago, Brannigan and partners Nic Trimboli and Adrian Fini have fine-tuned their vision for the project. Between the restaurant and the bar, the as-yet-unnamed Coogee Hotel will serve 150 guests. Seaside views will be a major part of the space’s appeal, as will the on-site garden. While it’s encouraging to see more venues dabbling in growing their own ingredients, Brannigan wants the planting here to be more than token.
“We’re looking at it more as a market garden than a romantic thing where we only pull one or two things out of the ground,” says Brannigan, who grew up on a tomato farm in New Zealand. “We need to come up with enough produce and think about turnarounds and timings and not having big gaps in-between plantings. It’s taken a lot more planning there than was expected and will take some time, I think.”
The signs so far, though, have been promising. Coogee has been supplying the restaurant with a healthy supply of spring and summer produce including heirloom varieties of squash, peppers, watermelons and cucumbers. The garden has been slowly populated by unwanted olive trees and prickly pears rescued from landfill. Those citrus trees that used to be outside Bread in Common? Now living happily ever after in Coogee. Harry Wykman – a gardener who has been involved with City Farm and North Fremantle’s Growing Change project – has been employed as head gardener. For Brannigan, Coogee Hotel is as much about getting his fingers dirty as it is celebrating West Australian growers.
“With having our own garden, we’re not going to have to buy as much, so we can really highlight the quality of the produce we do get in,” he says. “That’s what the plan was at Bread in Common, but it turned into such a beast I didn’t feel I could give it a hundred per cent, so I’d like to start again with Coogee.”
The Coogee Hotel reopens at the end of 2019.