Imagine yourself in a deck chair on a lush green hill looking out over the Hawkesbury river. A cold gin and tonic in your hand, a soft breeze cooling your face, in the elsewhere-hot summer air. Birds are chirping in the background, and just below, the cable ferry is slowly pushing across the river creating gentle ripples in the water. – Such a peaceful place.
You can see why Martin Boetz fell in love with this property. Not having had any previous connection to the area, Martin was without a doubt that this would be his new home, after viewing this property just an hour’s drive out of Sydney.
At the time, Martin was working at Longrain and was commuting regularly between the restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney. But after 13 years of great success with Longrain, he was longing for a home where he could relax and enjoy the serenity. Little did he know that only a couple of years later this would be home to Cooks Co-op, a farm and green grocer that focus on only the best local produce that the Hawkesbury area has to offer. Despite having no previous experience with growing vegetables, Martin saw a perfect opportunity to start, and after guidance from the local farmer, he was off!
Today he has 8 acres of luscious green vegetation sprawling out from the bottom of the hill. The top of the hill is home to the event shed and cottage. At first, he only grew vegetables and herbs for his own use, but as the crop began to gain in size, he started selling to restaurants as well as supplying Longrain, this is how the idea of Cooks Co-op was born. He saw a great opportunity to get out of the city and start his own project at the farm.
Today Cook Co-op do so much more than providing local, seasonal vegetables to selected restaurants in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, they also host a number of events, dinners and offer a perfect weekend getaway.
The event shed is beautifully decorated with three long wooden tables accompanied by hay bales draped with deerskin.
At one side of the shed there is a cooking and preparation area and at the other end, a raised stage with a bar and an assortment of hay bales to sit on. There is a grand wooden chandelier designed to look like deer’s antlers hanging above the stage. They have managed to capture a slightly medieval feel, but still with fresh and clean reminders of modern day. It’s all natural materials, where fruit, vegetables and leaves, meet leather, fur and wood, this is what I would call ‘The great hall’. Martin calls it ‘The Shed’.
‘The Shed’ has been home to numerous events including weddings, parties, and exclusive dinners. There is an impressive line-up of events awaiting in 2017 including regular curry nights, dinners and lunches co-hosted by some of Martin’s great chef friends, including Christine Manfield, Colin Fassnidge, Danielle Alvarez and of course David Thompson.
As you may or may not know, Martin Boetz and David have a long history together. It was David that introduced Martin to Asian flavours and techniques. Back when he was in his early 20’s, Martin had recently returned from a year of working in Europe and was running a cafe in Paddington when he was feeling the urge to broaden his horizons. Having read about David Thompson and his endeavour at Darley Street, Martin was eager to try his food.
“I went in for dinner and met with David; I was so impressed that the next day I wrote him a letter and asked if I could work with him for free?”
David took on Martin and after a couple of months offered him a permanent position; this was the beginning of what would be a great work relationship together.
Martin describes his fascination with all of the different spices and curry pastes; everything was made from scratch even the coconut milk was made in house.
Over the next couple of years Martin would occasionally travel and work with different types of cuisine but he would find himself returning to the Asian flavours and styles.
At the young age of 25, Martin was offered the head chef position at the newly opened Sailor Thai. He recalls the challenges of stepping into a head chef role and managing a multi-cultured kitchen where some of his Thai chefs were used to working in an entirely different environment.
But he soon got the hang of it, and Sailor Thai became a very popular Sydney eatery.
A few years later, newly returned from one of his trips overseas, good friend Sam Christie was looking to open a new restaurant, and searching for a head chef. Martin jumped on board, and together they opened Longrain.
I don’t know if anyone could have anticipated the success that would follow. Longrain went on to win numerous awards including Best New Restaurant and 2 Chef’s-Hats from The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide. In 2005 they opened the doors of Longrain Melbourne. Both Longrain Sydney and Melbourne have been consistently awarded Good Food Guide Awards every year since opening.
I would have asked Martin if he misses the kitchen environment, but he seems so content and happy with his new project that I think it is evident that he has made the right choice.
His next objective is to push the events at the farm and to add more infrastructures to the property. There is already a beautiful cottage up on the hill that is available through Airbnb. The cottage has an amazing Scandinavian feel inside with bright walls and clean and sleek design. The views are to die for and worth a visit on its own.
Ideally, in the next year, Martin would like to become so busy with events that he can hire a full-time gardener to help him look after his crops.
“It’s very time consuming, and the weather has been the most challenging factor in the last couple of years running Cooks Co-op.”
It’s oblivious that Martin is very passionate about sustainability and in his newfound love of the Hawkesbury region.
“Chef’s need to be more aware of what is grown in their own state and use things when they are in season and not just because it’s there. I think many chefs don’t realise that a lot of ingredients are imported.”
You can follow the Cooks Co-op on social media
and check out their website
to find out more about their events and dinners.
It’s well worth a visit.
2 West Portland Road