The first inkling
As my search for another venue begins, I think back to when I was first hatching my business dreams 7 years ago. Back then, I wasn’t dreaming up an incubator like Wandering Cooks. I wanted a cafe, a garden, a meeting place, a community, a food production space, but not an incubator exactly.
Mathew (my loving partner who I love very very much – he doesn’t always get a shout out but he’s always there for me, and I’ll make sure he reads this post for maximum effect) and I searched for 6 months before the idea of Wandering Cooks started to surface. Everywhere we looked, we’d try to think laterally, finding sights we could occupy cheaply and improve. And whenever we’d look at a new site, I would do a writing exercise to imagine what shape my business would take in this particular context.
Trawling through some old notes, I just found one of these exercises. It’s… earnest! and it describes something precipitating Wandering Cooks; maybe even catalysing it.
The site: a dusty carpark on the corner of Thomas and Vulture Street in West End (that same site has now been reclaimed as a beloved public park).
The exercise reminds me of where I began, the kind of place I always wanted, still want, and in some respects have…
Here’s some excerpts:
As you drive around the corner of Boundary St into Vulture St, West End’s hard edges break down into a flush of lush productivity. There’s an oversized wooden garden stake pointing in the direction of a carpark (and you need a carpark), so you turn right and drive into a gravel lane, under bunches of ripening passionfruit.
There’s actually cars everywhere, but unlike other places they park, their massing isn’t experienced as a sea of metal.
Defining each car park is a fruiting tree, perched high up in a large wooden barrel. Each barrel is marked with the name of the tree, and a list of its daily requirements. It seems that if the car owner sees fit, they can receive a reduction in their carpark lease if they agree to care for their tree.
Beside the barrel sits a small wooden box holding all the necessary implements. Plus, every few car spaces is a hose connection, under which is a pot growing a moisture-loving herb, and a soap on a rope to clean your hands after you’re done gardening.
After watching several people tending their trees (they seem to be on break with their post lunch coffee), you drive right, then left, following another signpost for The Preservers Kitchen parking. Who’s ever seen a carpark more enjoyed?
You step out and feel a coolness rising from the damp gravel at your feet, a welcome relief on this hot summer day. A herb-lined path meanders its way past the last potted tree. That, plus the low murmur of diners and music mingling with smells both fragrant and savoury, beckons you toward the Kitchen.
The path isn’t direct, but you don’t mind. It’s inviting you on a tour. First, past garden beds filled with all kinds of lettuces, tomatoes and cucumbers. Then, a beautifully weathered wall of an old shipping container, cut open at its side by a long pain of glass showing you the busy work of 3 cooks inside. One is carefully skimming a large copper pot of preserves, another ladels steaming tomato sauce into glass jars, and another tosses a bowl of the liveliest green salad.
Rounding the corner of this shed, you’re now surrounded by piles of wooden palettes and boxes of fruit and veg, all of which seem to have just landed off the back of a farmers’ truck. You see trays of small tomatoes with green stripes, and others that are wide, variegated and blood red. You see 3 different varieties of endives, and black radishes the size of carrots. Then, apricots so fragrant, it’s like someone’s making jam right there… then you remember: they are!
Told you it was earnest. No shame, Ange, no shame…