Back in the early nineties, the ‘Bran nu day’ soundtrack was on high rotation in my house. Broome held a strong place in my family’s heart, more specifically, The Mangrove Hotel seemed to be their playground of choice . When I recently got a job consulting on the hotel’s new menu, family stories came flooding out of the woodwork!
My Aunty and Uncle were social workers back in the 70’s and got married at the Mangrove Hotel looking out over Roebuck Bay, My other aunty worked the front desk in her early 20’s, Dad caused all kinds of chaos when he was in town (trucking or scrap dealing) ordering drinks on works tab to impress the ladies. In fact it seemed anyone I talk to about Broome has a story, a fondness and a wish to go back.
All up, I spent 5 weeks travelling back and forth to Broome trying out new dishes, planning specials, creating dessert banquets and the ever present and challenging task of costing! After we launched the new menu I was very lucky to be able to host a long table dinner ‘Feast on the Bay’ along the deck at the Mangrove, overlooking the spectacular Roebuck Bay. We treated guests to a feast of Western Australian delicacies including Southwest Yabbies and truffles, Northwest Goldband Snapper, Mudand it was delicious, topped with melting parmesan, cracked native pepperbery and my Swan Valley neighbours’ extra virgin olive oil.
The Broome locals treated me like a queen, the hospitality afforded to myself and Taylor’s Head chef Robyn, was exceptional. One of our highlights, after all our hard work, was seeing Broome by air, through the amazing tour at Willie Creek Pearls (fun fact: Our pilot was Will Ansett, grandson of the Ansett family) after visiting the farm and getting a very close look at some VERY big pearls we were whisked off down Cable Beach in a 4 seater helicopter and then over Roebuck Bay with some absolutely killer views. We only felt a little guilty flying over the Mangrove Hotel thinking of the chefs hard at work :/
Another highlight was our time spent with local legend Neville Poelina cooking damper on the fire out in Derby. Neville is one of the most influential speakers I’ve ever come across and his ability to talk about the land, culture, history and the positivity for the future is awe inspiring. We were cooking for 30 tourists and you could tell they were blown away with some of his stories, Robyn and I helped build the fire and bake the damper, which we were then rewarded with a sandwich to make subway blush.
The Mamabulanjin Managers were some of the special guests at Feast on the Bay. They specialise in traditional Australian flora and through the Green Army set about propagating and planting indigenous plants in amongst new housing and specific zoned areas. We were taken on a bush tucker tour with the Mamabulanjin Manager, Fiona Hart and Botanist Robert Taylor. They showed us their protected trail where they were seeing what plants might be suitable to start a crop and then were taken to see their Skuthorpe propagation plantation with many exciting stops in between. Walking around the scrub with Robert and Fiona was inspiring and extremely instructive, wherever I looked, I saw thorny Australian scrub, where Robert looked he saw a veritable medicine cabinet or a week long food supply. His knowledge was totally comprehensive and definitely inspiring. Robyn and I are cooking with way more native ingredients these days. The stand out favourites were the jack fruit, which is the European broad beans’ Australian cousin and the native bees with their delicate sweet nectar forming a hard resin like amber. Apparently you can purchase a native bee-hive for your own home which I thought was cool and they don’t sting!!
The main aim of propagation out at Skuthorpe is to start growing and processing traditional crops in Broome which is very exciting for local chefs who have struggled to put local produce on the menu due to the challenge of maintaining consistent availability.
Broome Senior High’s home economics teacher Caroline Davies was an invaluable asset leading up to our big dinner. Caroline had to do some time in a commercial kitchen to keep her skills up to date and boy did we take advantage of that! In return we paid a visit to her class the following week to talk to them about working in hospitality and starting a café or restaurant. Firstly I said ‘don’t do it!’ which I then followed up ‘but if you must, here are some tips’ 😉 the kids there were very passionate about cooking and even had their own little garden, set up by Anna Gare and the women from Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden program. Robyn and I left feeling our age , but we think the kids were halfway listening to us? 😉
Time to return to the Swan Valley and start putting what we learned into action at the café. We may not have the same ingredients as the north west but we can start to engage with the outstanding traditional foods of the south west and keep dreaming of Broome until we are lucky enough to return!
Thank you to all the amazing people we met, who let us into their lives and most of all to the management at The Mangrove Hotel who made our experience unforgettable!