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Cogley cooks up savory post-skating career

Former competitor, pro skater receives prestigious culinary honor

Former skater Justin Cogley performs his duties as a chef.
Former skater Justin Cogley performs his duties as a chef. (courtesy of Justin Cogley)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(04/25/2013) - Earlier this month, Justin Cogley -- the executive chef at Aubergine, a 12-table restaurant at L'Auberge Carmel (laubergecarmel.com/aubergine.html), a chateau-style hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. -- was named one of the top new American chefs by Food & Wine magazine. What came to light when the prestigious honor was announced is that Cogley is a former skater who competed at the national level and then toured with Disney on Ice.

Cogley, 34, grew up in Erie, Pa., and started skating around age 10. When he was about 16 or 17, he began traveling to Jamestown, N.Y., to train with Lenel van den Berg and Kirk Wyse. He took up pairs, teaming with Emily Morgan.

They placed second in novice pairs at the 1998 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and went on to compete at a North American Challenge competition, as well as Junior Grand Prix events in Canada and Slovenia. Their final competition together was the 2000 U.S. Championships, where they were seventh in junior pairs. Soon after, Cogley signed with Disney on Ice.

"I left like a week later for the show," Cogley said. "My first city was San Francisco. I was joining the end of a tour. I did a couple of other cities in the Midwest and then Miami. I left for Japan two months after that."

In all, Cogley spent four years with Disney on Ice -- the first year and a half with The Little Mermaid and the rest of the time with 100 Years of Disney Magic.

Eight months spent in Japan, during which the tour played 14 different cities, proved most influential in his future life as a chef. He came to see fish and seafood preparation in a very different light.

"It helps me understand the nuances that we can put in dishes," said Cogley, who also toured Europe and Australia, where he delighted in checking out international food markets and cooking techniques.

While Cogley enjoyed competitive and professional skating, his affinity for cooking was apparent at a very early age. His parents would help him understand complex recipes, and he was whipping up soufflés in elementary school. He had actually been accepted to culinary school toward the end of his competitive skating days but postponed it to tour. Eventually, he tired of living out of a suitcase and pursued his passion.

He attended culinary school in Portland, Ore., and then worked at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, where he worked his way up to chef de cuisine. He answered an ad for the job at Aubergine and landed the job.

Current ownership was desirous of transforming the restaurant, and Cogley has received great praise from food critics and bloggers for his creativity, presentation and overall delicious cuisine. He creates great seasonal dishes, utilizing a combination of local ingredients and ingredients flown in.

"We're five blocks from the ocean," Cogley said. "To do something seafood-based and with a lot of stuff from around the area seemed natural. I've always loved seafood; it seemed like the perfect fit."

Cogley's recognition as one of 11 up-and-coming chefs from around the country name by Food & Wine is especially impressive given the somewhat out-of-the-way location of Aubergine and its small size.

Cogley takes great pleasure in making diners -- some of whom travel great distances to stay at the hotel and partake of the food -- happy.

"Doctors or lawyers sometimes have to give you really bad news," he said. "In the hospitality business, we have the gift to be able to make people happy. We always have the opportunity to do the extra step for anniversaries, birthdays or special occasions, or just serve food you like. We can really control the experience."

It seems the only diners not into Cogley's cooking are the two sons, ages 1 and 3, he has with wife Laura, a former skater from Canada whom he met in the Philippines when their Disney on Ice tours crossed paths.

"They like quesadillas, cheese and French fries," he said.