An Interview with Atlas Dining’s Charlie Carrington

The wait is over. Charlie Carrington’s restaurant, Atlas Dining opened on September 6. I had a chat to the man behind the magic to find out how he become a head chef so young, and what we can expect from his very first restaurant.

There aren’t many 22-year-old CEOs or directors hanging around Melbourne. In fact, there aren’t that many full stop.

Charlie Carrington is arguably the exception; born in 1993, he is just about to open his very own restaurant as Head Chef – the culinary equivalent of a CEO.

So just how did this happen? The talented chef has packed a lot into his relatively short time, with an ongoing career that many chefs only dream of. At just 16, he worked at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in London before going on to complete stints at Vue Du Monde – under Shannon Bennett – Marque and Firedoor.

For such a young guy, Charlie is incredibly focused and dedicated. His passion for food started from a young age; his great aunt, an amazing pastry chef and creator of delicious desserts, was a particular inspiration. He was constantly blown away by food and as he entered the industry, this fascination continued.

From there, his next unofficial mentor was Clare Smyth, the former Head Chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey.

“Clare is definitely the best chef I’ve ever worked for and she really just took me under her wing. It was a very inspiring time. That job is what led to all the other career opportunities. Definitely.” Charlie said.

These opportunities included stints at Marque and Firedoor in Sydney’s Surry Hills. But in between these positions, Charlie headed off on an eight-month trip around the world, an experience that would change everything. During his travels he visited 15 different countries and was inspired by, and learnt about, a range of flavours, cooking styles and techniques.

It was then that he began thinking about opening his own restaurant where he could showcase what he had learnt. “The idea just wouldn’t go away and I really wanted to work on it,” he said.

Enter: Atlas Dining. After deciding to open a restaurant, Charlie set about looking for properties in Sydney. “I used to ride around after work on my push bike and look for venues and lease signs and then call up the next morning,” he said.

“There was probably eight months of riding around every night searching, I could almost tell you every venue that’s for lease in Sydney!”

Unfortunately for Sydneysiders, he had no luck. But when Charlie moved back to his hometown of Melbourne he found a venue in just four days. Two weeks later, he signed the lease. “It was definitely meant to be!” he said.

On September 6, Charlie finally saw his venue come to life.

Atlas is based on a philosophy of continuous learning and evolutionary cooking. Each menu – it will change every four months – will be based on a specific cuisine. The food created may not necessarily be the traditional cuisine of each place; instead Charlie intends to use the flavours and techniques of these places to create his own dishes.

Fire will also play an important part of Atlas, something Charlie became familiar with at Firedoor. In fact, aside from a couple of induction stoves, Atlas will rely entirely on wood and charcoal for the fare.

“I learnt everything I know about wood-cooking from my time at Firedoor. I was unaware at the time how important that experience was but it has really been fundamental,” Charlie said.

Everything on the menu will be touched by fire in some way, and this perfectly suits the first cuisine on the cards – Vietnamese. Charlie’s travel experience will come in handy when creating and executing this and the other menus. “There are certain little rules that I learnt in Vietnam that will be really fundamental for our menu,” he explained.

Charlie has no regrets. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I can say I’ve learnt more in the last nine months that I have in my whole career.”

But he stressed that Atlas has not been a solo project, giving credit to his amazing support network, including architects, builders, family and friends, who have helped along the way.

For those aspiring to follow in his footsteps, Charlie encourages young chefs to always keep learning and to follow their own path. “You don’t have to fall into the same boat as everyone else.”

Originally published on Smudge Eats as ‘Behind the Scenes: with Charlie Carrington’.

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