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WHY HE’S AMAZING Because he combines ultra-seasonal ingredients with flavors from his world travels, creating a menu that changes nightly and that’s purely Northern California.
CULINARY SCHOOL The Western Culinary Institute (Portland, OR)
BACKGROUND Charlie Trotter’s (Chicago)
QUINTESSENTIAL DISH Abalone and oyster with pickled sea beans and wild sea lettuce on a braised pig’s tail cake
PREVIOUS CAREER In his early 20s, Cogley toured the world as a professional figure skater with Disney on Ice. “We had so much downtime when the show was being transferred to different cities—it could take as long as a month. We’d eat out wherever we could.”
ON HIS TRANSITION FROM SKATER TO CHEF “It was very natural. I was so used to working long hours. Restaurants were a natural fit for me.”
TAKEAWAY FROM CHARLIE TROTTER’S PRECISION AND SPONTANEITY Precision and spontaneity: Cogley’s dishes look like tiny scenes from nature—seemingly unscripted but composed.
Chefs love working with the finest ingredients available because they spark excitement and creativity. But they also scream out for restraint. No chef knows this more than Justin Cogley, who tries to find a sophisticated balance between innovation and purity, knowing that he must often pull back in deference to what nature provides.
The brilliant chef at Aubergine in Carmel tracks down the finest ingredients on the planet (most of them from Monterey County), and he lets them shine on the plate with "complex simplicity" (an oxymoronic phrase to the layman, but logical to a chef). No confusing, muddled flavors, just a harmonious, flavor-packed tribute to quality.
It's simply brilliant.
Take his treatment of Monterey Bay abalone. Tender and succulent, the mollusk is sliced and served with local sea grapes (small, fluid-filled bulbs that resemble Pinot Noir grapes) and alba mushrooms (a clamshell variety that is distinguished by its mild shellfish flavor). Cogley ties it together with a broth spiked with umeboshi (Japanese pickled salt plums) and bits of seawater suspended in a gel.
The dish tastes of the ocean, briny and sweet and delicate.
Or how about Cogley's ribeye? This is no cliché seen in steakhouses. He starts with imported Wagyu beef from the Miyazaki Prefecture in the southern islands of Kyushu, Japan. It is recognized as the most superior beef in the world, and each shipment comes with 100percent traceability, including a detailed birth
certificate that even includes an animal nose-print.
This well-marbled, succulent beef is seared simply, but served alongside complex flavors of yellow beet, tonka bean (a wrinkled legume from South America that imparts flavors of vanilla, almond and spicy cinnamon) and fermented black garlic. No knife needed here as the meat melts on your tongue.
"I spend a lot of time getting the best ingredients," Cogley said "I try my best not to get in the way. I want the flavors to be unique and pure."
Toward that end, the restaurant underwent a recent renovation, including new carpeting, fabrics, lighting and chairs — and a custom-built cheese cave to hold Cogley's amazing fromagerie collection. In the kitchen, he installed a live fish tank with a bio-wheel to create the perfect environment for live spot prawns, sea cucumbers and abalone.
Prior to his career as a chef, Cogley took a turn as a professional international figure skater with "Disney on Ice." Traveling and touring with the show for four years in Asia, Australia and Europe, Cogley became fascinated with new flavors and cuisines.
When he returned to the United States, he enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute. After graduating with top honors in 2005, he launched his culinary career at the prestigious Charlie Trotter's in Chicago before moving to Carmel.
Cogley's talent is no secret. A large circle of chefs knows about his exploits at Aubergine, and five of the most esteemed chefs in the country will visit on Saturday for an epic 12-course meal designed to rediscover coastal cuisine. Cogley will host the dinner and join the five chefs (Scott Anderson, Elements, New Jersey; James Syhabout, Commis, Oakland; Matthias Merges, Yusho, Chicago; George Mendes, Aldea, New York; and John Shields, formerly of Town House in Washington, D.C., and now building his own concept) in creating two dishes apiece. The meal is sold out (at $250 a plate, not including wine), which reveals a lot about Cogley's talent and reputation.
Now it's about convincing the Michelin Guide to venture this far south. If that happens (and there are rumors that it will this spring), a "star" will definitely be born.
Another gathering of amazing chefs from across the country will be going down this Saturday in Carmel atAubergine. The local talents are James Syhaboutof Commis, and Justin Cogley of Aubergine, who will be cooking a 12-course tasting menu in concert with George Mendes of Aldea, Matthias Mergesof Yusho, John Shields, and Scott Anderson ofElements. It’s not every day chefs like this come together in one dining room, so if you can spring for the $250 price tag (plus $110 for wine pairings), you probably won’t be disappointed.
Aubergine (Carmel-by-the-Sea) – Justin Cogley is doing a great job at this kitchen in the lovely L’Auberge de Carmel, located a short block and a half off of the main drag at this lovely seaside village. A veteran of Charlie Trotter’s kitchen, when Cogley replaced Christophe Grosjean, he had the difficult task of modernizing this restaurant’s cuisine, while keeping a clientele that is predominantly older and well-heeled, and not necessarily open to new culinary concepts, happy and wanting to come back. How did he manage it? With well thought out and tasty dishes like live spot prawn, frozen apple and smoked char roe and ribeye, yellow beet, tonka bean and black garlic. You get to enjoy Cogley’s cooking in an intimate 12 table dining room which comes with a wine list that can be easily described as stupendous. Recommended ++
After last week's review of Cibo, I got to thinking whether any other restaurants around town had taken on the challenge of crafting an Italian dinner that's both rustic and refined.
As I sat down to a long overdue dinner at Cantinetta Luca, I realized I already knew the answer: yes — and resoundingly well at that. At Cantinetta Luca, chef Jason Balestrieri's cuisine honors Italian tradition, but gives it a modern, fresh feel.
The best bite from dinner was the sardine appetizer — crostini topped with grilled sardines, tomatoes, grapes, capers, shallots and arugula. I loved the combination of bitter arugula, sweet shallots and briny capers, all accented with a bite of acid.
The evening's special pizza — fig, gorgonzola and prosciutto, topped with arugula — was superb. And the entrée addition for the night — braised pork cheeks with gnocchi and butternut squash — was a rich, savory feast of fall flavors.
For dessert, we finished with a decadent chocolate semifreddo with citrus and milk jam.
That delicious dinner at Cantinetta Luca wiped away the sad memories of my disappointing experience at Cibo a couple nights earlier, proving that in the right hands, rustic Italian food can be a gourmet experience.
Cantinetta Luca is on Dolores Street, between Ocean and Seventh avenues in Carmel. 625-6500.www.cantinettaluca.com.
Looking to try a delicious dessert closer to home? I enjoyed a mighty tasty ricotta cheesecake ($6) at Carmel's Cantinetta Luca on Monday night.
The ricotta gave this cheesecake a velvety smooth texture. Topping a dessert with fennel might sound strange to some, but cooking down the fennel brought out its sweet, licorice undertones, while keeping a little hint of something savory.
And the pairing with a light tangerine sorbet made the perfect sweet finish to a delightful dinner.
For dessert, we couldn’t resist one more trip for gelato at Salumeria Luca, which is also a great place to stock up on picnic goods as you explore the surrounding area or buy some gourmet gifts to take home and remember your trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Just in time for the holiday weekend and the close of National Hamburger Month, 400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries made a splash in the Carmel last week.
This new project from David Fink and the Mirabel Hotel and Restaurant Group finds chef Jason Balestrieri — also executive chef at Mirabel-backed Cantinetta Luca — trading Italian fine dining for good old-fashioned burgers. (And don't worry, Balestrieri isn't leaving Luca — he's juggling both kitchens.)
I popped into the new burger joint twice last week. This isn't really a review, but more like my first impressions of things that showed promise and things that needed a little work. (It's only their first week of service, after all.)
The burgers at 400° are cooked medium on a custom-made cast-iron griddle.
On opening night, I ordered The Kobe — a Kobe beef patty with soused onions, smoked cheddar cheese, crispy potatoes and 400° spread ($13.95).
The burger (ordered medium-rare) was juicy and flavorful, a rich patty complemented by tangy onions and smoky cheese.
The bun was grilled with olive oil, leaving it a little greasy, but no less effective at holding onto the juicy patty. I was impressed that even with all those toppings it didn't turn too soggy.
I sampled a couple bites of the turkey burger, with cranberry-currant spread, Swiss cheese and wild arugula ($8.95) in a tasty nod to Thanksgiving.
On my second visit, I ordered a cheeseburger, withcheddar, lettuce, tomato and 400 sauce ($8.95, double for $13.95). I made it breakfast for dinner and added applewood-smoked bacon and fried egg ($1.50 extra each).
I'm a big fan of bacon and eggs on a burger, and this burger didn't disappoint.
I also tried a few bites of the veggie burger, with chopped spinach, bean and grilled vegetable patty, griddled mushrooms and eggplant-miso spread ($8.95).
The patty was a little mushy, but I liked the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and spinach. I recommend adding crispy onions ($1.50) for a bit of sweet crunch too.
While the burgers were pretty tasty, the much-hyped duck fat fries ($3.95) were a bit of a disappointment.
Cooking in duck fat should have yielded rich, crispy fries — that's the experience I've had with other fat-fried foods. But honestly, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the house-cut Kennebec fries ($2.95) and the duck-fat fries.
There's no formal table service at 400° — you order at the counter, get a number for your table and food is bussed by floating waitstaff, a model that stirred up quite the controversy in Carmel.
I thought the counter service model was perfect for a burger joint, but even my patience was tried opening night when customers and servers piled up at the counter in an awkward traffic jam.
I also found it a little odd that my ticket stayed open throughout my meal. Most times when you order at a counter, you pay at the counter, end of story.
This has been the top complaint on Yelp, confusion and frustration when it comes to pay.
On my second visit, each table was equipped with a tablet computer for ordering. The tablets were supposed to make it easy to place, modify and pay for your order from the comfort of the table. But mine kept popping up error messages, and I had to seek out a human being instead.
I think service would be improved by keeping things as simple as possible: clear direction for ordering and paying, and reliable technology.
The burgers haven't ousted those at Umami Burger for the title of all-time best in my book, but 400° is a welcome addition to our local food scene that's sure to be sizzling this summer.
David Fink's much-ballyhooed and controversial gourmet burger joint will open in Carmel on Wednesday, with a design, a menu and a philosophy that should put to rest any concerns the eatery will somehow destroy the cherished fabric of the village.
Little about 400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries should remind guests of a fast-food operation, the great fear among some provincial folk. Customers may order from the counter or receive table service in the comfortable dining room or on the dog-friendly patio. The 2,200 square-foot, 80-seat restaurant offers dramatic and contemporary design elements (including a woven stainless-steel wall and two-story tall windows) and a sustainable-leaning philosophy (biodegradable containers, low-voltage lighting and low-flow toilets).
Executive chef and partner Jason Balestrieri created the menu, featuring house-blended beef patties (Angus ground chuck and skirt steak), locally sourced produce, house-made sodas and shakes, assorted variations of fries and fresh salads. Wine and beer are available.
The name comes from the optimal temperature for searing burgers to create that tell-tale crust (Fink installed a custom-made cast-iron griddle for that purpose).
Hamburgers start at $7.95, but the price goes up with the customer's creativity. And, yes, there will be a veggie burger. Sides include house-cut Kennebec fries ($2.95), duck fat fries ($3.95) and zucchini fries ($3.95).
400° Burgers & Fries is at the corner of Mission and Seventh streets. It's open Sunday through Thursday from 11a.m. to 11p.m. Information or to-go orders: 244-0040, or online at 400degrees.com.