“It all started with that 4th grade teacher who told me I couldn’t be a doctor” explained Justin Cogley when I called him in the middle of a twelve-hour shift at Aubergine, an award-winning restaurant in Carmel-by-the-sea where he is the executive chef. Cogley might not be a doctor, but one gets the sense he could be if he put his mind to it. His career thus far has seen him transition from international professional figure skating to his “big angry chef” phase to his current status as a smaller, less angry, but no less driven executive chef who spends his free time running ultramarathons.
Cogley picked up running when he won an entry to the Big Sur International Marathon in 2014. He only had 4 weeks to train, but he would have given up in 4th grade if he was in the business of listening to naysayers. Training for the run gave him release and a chance to think; like so many of us, he was quickly hooked. The next year he entered two full IRONMAN triathlons and dozens of shorter races. That same year, he and his team were nominated for three James Beard Foundation awards. Not bad for a chef who had, at one point, struggled with is bodyweight and low energy.
Cogley’s unique schedule puts a whole raft of demands on his training and nutrition. He’s learned that it’s almost impossible to stick to a plan and that he’s far better off adhering to core principles and listening to his body. Cogley runs in the morning after dropping his kids off at school. Generally, his wife will run early while he takes care of breakfast (Cogley admits that his kids are some of his more demanding clients; he often cooks a few dishes to ensure everyone has something they’ll eat). After serving his first meal of the day, Cogley heads out on a two-hour run before arriving at work for his twelve-hour shift in the kitchen. On Mondays, when he doesn’t cook, or if he has been invited to cook at a special location, Cogley will run for up to five hours in the mountains. Just like with his menu, Cogley goes by his intuition rather than what is traditional or normal. Whether he’s picking intervals or ingredients, he seems to have a pretty good hunch for the right choices.
That kind of exercise burns some serious calories, and Cogley obviously loves food. “It’s the best part of running!” he joked on our call. But being around delicious food all the time has its pitfalls. In order to keep in shape, Cogley makes a smoothie before lunch service using produce that is left in his kitchen. He generally favors a high-protein diet with fewer carbs; Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t indulge in the buckets of overcooked pasta that long races often offer. Cogley prefers to feel light and fuel himself in the race with products that work for him rather than binging the night before and running off the bloat. In his less healthy days he loved cookies, so cookies and cream Bonk Breaker bars are always a favorite.
After races, Cogley likes nothing more than the simple pleasures of bread and cheese. When he finished the Madeira Island Ultra Trail race recently, he managed to acquire a piece of cheese so large that people thought it was a trophy. He says he made a sizeable dent in this and his boulder-sized loaf of bread before falling asleep, perhaps the only challenge he has ever given up on.
This year, Cogley’s goal is a 100-mile race in the French Alps. He might not be a doctor, but an ultramarathon-running internationally recognized chef and father of two was probably not something his teacher ever thought he could be either.