Carmel’s bohemian heritage
in Aaron and Candice Koseba
Photography by Michelle Magdalena
Aaron Koseba stretches the thick neoprene of his wetsuit over his lanky frame, tugs the strap that will seal the zipper up his back and, for the moment, feels secure.
Into the icy waters that swirl between Carmel River Beach and Carmel Point he dives—with a spear and an extra gulp of air. The water is murky, and the farther down he swims, the darker it becomes. It’s scary every time. But vermilion rockfish hover under a canopy of kelp, and if he can manage the anxiety, he’s likely to land a delectable dinner for his family.
“Some people are too intimidated to get in the water. I can understand that. But we are limited only by ourselves—how long we can hold our breath and keep it together, mentally,” he says, adding that he’s found the rewards are well worth the challenge.
Koseba, the chef de cuisine for Aubergine restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel, Relais & Châteaux, is part of a new breed of young artists breathing free-spiritedness and artistic flair into the one-time artist’s colony of Carmel. Except this time, instead of being painters or writers, these artists are chefs, and sourcing, cooking and preparing food is their medium.
Koseba grew up fishing and hunting for his family’s sustenance in Northern Michigan. Dinner often was caught with a bow and arrow, using bait dropped through a hole in the ice or with a well-cast fly. Koseba likes that spearfishing is one of the most sustainable ways to harvest fish, but it wasn’t until he moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea with his wife, Candice, that he taught himself how to use a spear gun.
“The benefit of living in a small cottage by the sea is that it leads us outdoors,” Koseba says.
“I try to get out there [to spearfish] a couple times a week, and always a couple of days before I serve it, so it won’t be too chewy.”
While Koseba is fishing, Candice, who as culinary liaison for Aubergine organizes its popular cooking class program, is often there with him, foraging with their 3-year-old son, Harrison, for seaweed, sea lettuces and sea beans. The couple grills Aaron’s catch at personal, impromptu beach cookouts, but much of the sea vegetables they collect
will go to Aubergine’s kitchen, where Aaron and executive chef Justin Cogley incorporate them into the restaurant’s renowned cuisine. The couple will also serve some of the sea vegetables at home, and the rest Candice will press and frame as succulent, organic art.
Koseba, it turns out, has always been an adventurous cook.
Chasing a dream, he did his culinary training at Anhembi Morumbi University in São Paulo, and then stayed in the Brazilian city for another six years to cook at D.O.M. Restaurante, one of South America’s most well-regarded restaurants.
When he returned to the United States, his first job was working with Cogley at the late Charlie Trotter’s world-renowned eponymous Chicago restaurant, where Cogley was chef de cuisine.
The two were paired again in Chicago’s Elysian Hotel, now the Waldorf Astoria, where Cogley served as executive sous chef. It was there that Aaron met Candice, the chef tournant, which means she could run any food station in the kitchen.
Like Aaron, Candice had grown up in a family that harvested its food from the land in Northern Michigan, and she’d also taken an unusual route to becoming a chef—before studying culinary arts at Kendall College, she had studied art at The Art Institute in Chicago.
Cogley sought to bring them to Carmel after he took the helm at Aubergine in 2011. But at first the couple was hesitant.
Unfamiliar with Carmel, the Kosebas only knew it from its reputation for fine dining, fine art and fine tourism—until by chance they saw “Don’t Pave Main Street,” the Clint Eastwood-narrated documentary about Carmel’s long and colorful history.
“Once we saw the portrayal of the bohemian lifestyle in Carmel,” says Candice, “we thought, ‘Oh, we are doing that; we are living that way. This is more than just an artsy fartsy town.’”
Cogley, who just last year was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” for his role at Aubergine, is glad the Kosebas joined him.
“Aaron and Candice have been integral members of the Aubergine team,” says Cogley, referring to the deep bench of talent that also includes noted pastry chef Ron Mendoza. “Aaron’s dedication, hard work and creativity have contributed to the continued evolution of the restaurant, and Candice has been instrumental in developing our cooking class program. Their efforts have gone a long way toward Aubergine’s success.”
Aaron and Candice are grateful they made the move, too.
“At first we felt like little stowaways here, but we actually fit right in,” says Candice. “We have found a very natural, supportive community here, like working with Trevor Fay and the Monterey Abalone Co. It’s not just cooking—it’s very spiritual for us.”
Monte Verde Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel
Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.
A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.