I visited Carmel-by-the-Sea and stayed at a wonderful hotel, the Tally Ho, which was just up the street from Aubergine, a very chic, white table cloth restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel, a European-style inn. The food was excellent, and while there I had the opportunity to speak with the chef, Justin Cogley.
Under the direction of Chef Cogley and his team, Aubergine has enjoyed substantial acclaim. In 2015 and 2016 they were nominated for James Beard Foundation awards including Best Chef, West and Outstanding Service. Those years also saw Aubergine earn Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence and Forbes Travel Guide’s highest five-star rating recognizing excellence in restaurants. Also in 2014 L’Auberge Carmel was included in Travel + Leisure’s World's Best Awards as a Top 100 Hotels Overall and one of the Top Resorts in the Continental United States. In 2013, Cogley was awarded the prestigious title of Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux, joining an esteemed list of internationally celebrated chefs, and Food & Wine magazine named Justin Cogley “Best New Chef.”
The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking?
Chef Justin Cogley: 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. I always loved cooking and learned a lot while traveling with my previous career. The long hours of my previous career has helped deal with kitchen life. I went to school in Portland Oregon, and then followed my dream to work at Charlie Trotter’s in 2005. After spending 4 years there I helped open the Elysian Hotel in downtown Chicago before moving to Carmel in 2010. With only 9 tables now we can provide a level of service that guests really enjoy.
Do you have a specialty dish?
We serve a lot of seafood, since we are so close to the ocean. Abalone is my favorite since it is farmed right here in Monterey. The course you had was Monterey Abalone, with a spinach caper berry sauce, local herbs, and flowers.
Do you prefer a particular style of cooking?
Our goal is just to make delicious food! We try to just not mask the ingredients too much.
What kind of atmosphere do you create in the kitchen?
We have a small kitchen where we have to work all together as a team. Everyone does a bit of everything. We also have team trips for events. We are all cooking in Napa this week.
What do you look for when you hire other chefs to assist you in the kitchen?
The most important thing is a positive attitude! The rest will come. Everyone can bring something new to the kitchen.
Tell me about Chefs Cycle.
I’m very involved in Chefs Cycle, a bicycle ride each year which raises money for No Kid Hungry. Last year we raised almost 2 million dollars. Why ride? For me the question was easy. 300 miles? Great, love challenges!
I am a chef, I love to cycle, run, be outdoors, and I love kids. Every child should have the opportunity to eat healthy food, and thrive. Chef Cycle is an incredible opportunity to make a difference, while doing something I love.