Running a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant is no easy task, but for triathlete-chef Justin Cogley, it’s practically a walk in the park.
The Chicago native worked under acclaimed late chef Charlie Trotter for four years before being tapped to helm Four-Star L’Auberge Carmel’s signature restaurant, where he and his team have earned myriad accolades over the past few years.
To stay inspired, Cogley consistently introduces new culinary experiences, from a regular roster of cooking classes to his Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine collaborative dinners.
Forbes Travel Guide recently caught up with the decorated California chef to learn about his culinary inspiration, chat about his unique globetrotting adventures and understand why in the world he’s training for a 100K ultra-marathon.
Prior to becoming a chef, you had an interesting career. Can you tell us about it?
Absolutely. It was interesting. It was a career that completely changed my life. I was a professional figure skater for Feld Entertainment’s Disney on Ice. I had the opportunity to travel the world, experience cultures, food, see the wonders of the world — all while performing. Oh, and I even met my wife [while I was a skater].
I made sure I took every opportunity to learn about the city, the culture and the food of every place we toured to. I absolutely loved being overseas exploring markets, eating at Michelin Star restaurants and enjoying the recreation of the area, whether it was hiking a mountain [like] Mount Fuji or climbing the Great Wall of China.
What inspired you to turn to cooking?
I always enjoyed cooking from a young age. I knew that was the career path I eventually wanted, but traveling the world performing as a professional ice skater was just too good to turn down.
It is a way that I get to be creative. I love beautiful places and creating beautiful plates. I like a good challenge and I have found a career that certainly does that.
You recently became a triathlete and long-distance runner. What sparked that interest?
If I am being really honest with you, I had gained almost 50 pounds working in a very intense culinary environment. I won a lottery at The Treadmill [running store] that got me into the Big Sur Marathon, which I could have never done without a friend who encouraged and coached me every step of the way, from gear to positively believing in me.
Most of the people in my life tried to stop me from partaking, as I was so out of shape. However, I missed the athletic side of myself, and I had to do it. Then I was hooked! I moved on to triathlons, Ironman competitions and now I am really into endurance trail running.
Thanks to Suunto Multi Sport Team, which I am
currently on, I am able to travel to find 100K races. This allows me to keep
exploring my palate as well, finding new flavors and creating even better
Do food and fitness have a correlation for you?
Absolutely. I like to cook food that tastes amazing but isn’t loaded with fat. It is possible to cook amazing, flavor-filled food that people can enjoy, and your body will feel good after eating it as well.
Most people enjoy enticing flavors that are not heavy. Some of my dishes take days to prepare, but the flavor is worth it. I also find that fitness inspires me. When I feel healthy and I am running on trails, I get my best ideas. In order to be able to run a 100K, I need to fuel my body with good nutrients.
Aubergine has received plenty of praise in recent years. What is it like running a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star kitchen?
It has been great to have a small, dedicated team. We spend a lot of time together and our guests expect a thoughtful dining experience.
What inspired you to start Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine?
It was an idea to bring some of my old and new friends together. It was a way to bring talented chefs to our small, unique beautiful location and have a chance to experience the flavors they would bring to the table.