Tucked away on the quiet, but breathtaking coast of the Monterey Bay Peninsula in Northern California is Justin Cogley. His career started not in the kitchen, but on ice. He was a professional figure skater for years. Touring rinks and arenas around the globe, he fell in love with the flavors of the cultures he encountered on the road. Hanging up his skates, he put on an apron and worked his way through some of Chicago’s Michelin-starred kitchens.

Now, just blocks away from the cold, frothy, surf of the Pacific Ocean, he has become a champion for sustainable seafood. I went with him to the small farmer’s market in Monterey to pick out some produce. He took me back to a gorgeous kitchen overlooking the beach in Carmel-By-The-Sea and cooked me a dish and mixed me a couple of Absolut Vodka cocktails. Afterwards, he moved our luncheon to the beach, where he raised a fire and cooked some more.

Kale was stacked from here to there. Cogley picked out a beautiful bundle of the greens at the local farmers’ market.

In California, tomatoes were still abundant in the waning days of October.

Persimmons, pluots, apricots, and more. Even this small farmers’ market offered an impressive variety of fruits and vegetables.

In the kitchen, Cogley sautéed big, fat porcini mushrooms in some olive oil. Deglazing the pan with some fruit vinegar, he added shallots and kale and let them simmer until wilted and tender.

To pair with the high, bright acidity in the porcini dish—which helped cut through the beefy, robust flavor of the mushrooms—Justin mixed two cocktails. The first, which he named the “Explorer,” combined Absolut Vodka, fresh lemon verbena, together with grapefruit and lemon juices.

The “Explorer” was tangy, with a thin line of acidity running through an otherwise well-rounded body of sweetness. To spice things up a bit, Cogley finished the drink with a dash of five spice.

Cogley’s second cocktail, the “Hidden Rose,” was a mix of Absolut Vodka, spiced apple cider, red apple-ginger simple syrup, and apple bitters. The result was light-colored cocktail, immensely fragrant with notes of apple blossom. Cogley garnished the dish with some bitter, spicy cress leaves.

Cogley set up a small campfire on the beach. He set a pot of water on the grill to boil and a skillet beside to heat up. In the pot, he cooked a lobster.

Splicing the cooked lobster lengthwise, Cogley set the giant, meaty crustacean aside for a moment to turn his attention back to the grill.

Cogley threw two ears of corn on the grill to char. To the skillet, Cogley added cherry tomatoes to blister, and then a pile of mussels to steam in the tomato juices.

Cogley reheated the lobster tails in the skillet, letting the tail meat soak up some of the tomato-mussel sauce.

To pair with the grilled corn and lobster, Cogley made a shaken cocktail that he dubbed the “Midwestern Beach,” owing to the corn purée in it. There were also apricot purée, a touch of elderflower liqueur, and Absolut Vodka. The cocktail looked like a sunset, with a frothy head and a warming heat from the dash of cayenne pepper Cogley sprinkled on top. The Midwestern Beach highlighted the age-old friendship between corn and lobster.

Cogley’s “Ocean Swell” was a fruity, frothy surf of lemon verbena, lemon juice, huckleberry puree, a touch of rum, some bitters, and Absolut Vodka. Shaken with an egg white, this fizz was finished with a succulent oyster leaf. Its purplish hue added a happy splash of color to our beach fare.

Focused on seafood from local waters, Justin Cogley’s cooking captures the best of the Monterey Bay Peninsula. He fills in the gaps with exquisite products from elsewhere – porcini from the woods, corn from the fields. And in everything, he injected as wonderful sense of adventure from his travels around the world.

Bonjwing Lee