Justin Cogley, Executive Chef, Aubergine

The  Staff Canteen

Justin Cogley is executive chef of Aubergine and all of L’Auberge Carmel’s culinary programs in Carmel-by-the-Sea in the US.

Before becoming a chef he was a professional international figure skater, travelling the world performing with “Disney on Ice.” Traveling and touring with the show for four years in Asia, Australia and Europe, Justin 'was exposed to new flavors and cuisines, as well as a myriad of food markets and international techniques'.

He trained at the Western Culinary Institute and began working in select restaurants in Portland, Oregon. After graduating with top honors in 2005, he began his culinary career with the team at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.

This year he joins the lineup at Nigel Haworth's Obsession 17 and he spoke to The Staff Canteen about the event, the menu at Aubergine and coming into the industry as a 25-year-old.

Whole roasted cauliflower by Justin Cogley
Whole roasted cauliflower by Justin Cogley 

You were a professional figure skater previous to being in the kitchen, but did you laways have a love of food and cooking?

I always loved cooking since a young age. Skating was just a great chance to travel the world.

How old were you when you began as a chef?

I started late in the business around 25. I find if you work really hard at what you do you will be noticed wherever you are in the world.

Is there a particular chef you trained under who inspired you and still influences you today?

Chef Matthias Merges, he was the chef of Charlie Trotters. 

You’ve worked in several hotels, do you prefer that environment to restaurants?

Not really there is just more going on: I always pick smaller hotels where food is the focus.

What is it like not only looking after Aubergine but overseeing all of L’Auberge Carmel’s culinary programmes?

INFO BAR

Top five restaurant meals
-Alleno Paris
-in de wulf
- Saison
- Manresa
- Gordon Ramsey RHR. Chef was there cooking. 2000.

Five most influential chefs in career
-Matthias Merges
-Charlie Trotter

Top comfort foods
- great bread and cheese

It is a small place, I do; do a lot of cooking classes and other small events at the hotel.

Talk us through the menu and dish creation at Aubergine, what inspires you?

We are inspired by the surroundings here in Carmel, the ocean, the forests. We have gone back to a more simple approach to food and just let the product speak for itself.

Can you tell us about the dishes on the menu at the moment which best reflect your style of cooking and how would you describe your style?

Abalone “in its natural surroundings”  - Abalone if farmed here in Monterey. We serve it to everyone.  We also serve a lightly pickled oyster, with seawater, and caviar.

Do you have a favourite ingredient?

Seafood.

You travelled extensively in your previous career is this reflected in your food?

It was the best type of “schooling” and yes it has made a big difference in my cooking.

Is it important for chefs to travel and sample other cuisines to find their own niche?

If you can travel it is a huge benefit, but you can also find lots of good information on social media nowadays.

Aubergine
Aubergine

You created Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine, can you tell us a bit about this and why you wanted to do it?

I wanted to bring new chefs to this area and see what they could come up with. It has been a great event and everyone wins. We also donate some of the proceeds to the Monterey abalone farm and the Ventana wilderness alliance.

You will be cooking at Obsession 17, how did that come about?

Through a local chef friend Tony Baker, it's my first time cooking in the UK and we will be doing some new dishes, along with some current ones.

>>> Related: Obsession 17 at Michelin-starred Northcote - see the line-up here

What do you think of the UK food scene?

There's lots of new talent and there is some great cooking going on. 

What about America, any chefs to watch?

So much talent! I'm loving the Chicago scene right now.

What are your plans for the future?

Still trying to figure it all out!


>>> Read more in The Staff Canteen Meets series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th January 2017

Justin Cogley, Executive Chef, Aubergine