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My Melbourne: Charlie Carrington

10 Jul 2017

Experiencing different cuisines is arguably one of the best parts of travel and one Melbourne-based restaurateur has figured out a way to bring a rotation of international fare to this foodie city. Meet Charlie Carrington, 23-year-old head chef and owner of Atlas Dining.

The concept of Atlas Dining is simple but unique. Charlie researches and travels to a select destination, experiences its food and cooking techniques first hand, then brings his learnings back to the Atlas Dining table. Every four months a new menu is introduced, inspired by a different destination, providing guests with an ever-changing but delicious dining experience.

Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and growing up in Brighton?

I have amazing family, that’s for sure! I grew up in Brighton and went to Brighton Grammar but did my last year of school at De La Salle College in Malvern. I have a very close family, but no one else is very good at cooking.

How did you discover your love of cooking?

My grandmother’s sister was an amazing pastry cook. Whenever I ate her food, I just couldn’t believe something could be so delicious. From there I became very interested in chefs, especially people like Gordon Ramsay, who I still admire.

What were you doing before you opened Atlas Dining?

I started my apprenticeship at Vue de Monde in the city. My most recent workplace was Firedoor in Sydney, which is why we do so much wood-fire cooking at Atlas. Prior to that I spent a lot of time travelling and working for free – this experience is where the idea came for this restaurant. I was spending about a month at each place. You pay for everything and do it because you love it, but the experience I gained was just second to none.

What has been the most interesting experience in your career as a chef?

One of my most interesting cooking experiences was when I was in Peru. I was doing the hike to Machu Picchu and, on day two, I was able to cook over an open fire for the 20 people on the tour with a woman who only spoke Spanish. Together we cooked this amazing dinner. That was the first time I really got to put my skills to use in a random situation, using a really basic kitchen, but it was great because of that. There was so much growing on the tour – you could forage the whole way. The people we saw on the way grew their own food – they don’t really buy anything, they just grow it.

How did the Atlas Dining concept come to be?

I did an eight-month overseas trip and for six of those months I worked for free at different places in South America, North America and Europe. The experience of learning in a different country and cooking a different cuisine every month is something that I wanted to keep going and I knew it wasn’t sustainable to travel forever. So when we came back I had this idea – a really small, 12-seat restaurant in a cafe space that I rented at night, but it turned into something much bigger in the restaurant we’re sitting in now.

Travel is a big influence on the menu at Atlas Dining. Talk us through how menu items are selected each season.

First we choose a place we want to visit or a place that has food that inspires us a lot. Then we do a lot of research – reading cookbooks and anything we can get our hands on. After that we plan a trip there. This time I’m going with one of the chefs in the kitchen, but last time I went by myself. We try to have a bit of a plan to make sure we have as many unique food experiences as possible throughout our time. We then come back and showcase what we learned as best we can. The front-of-house team will come up with some cocktails and refine the wine list for each season.

How would you describe your team at Atlas Dining?

We’re all pretty young. Everyone has different experiences and there’s a constant drive to do our best. Everyone works really well together, more so than I’ve seen at other places. There’s never really any negativity – it’s just a fun vibe all the time.

What made South Yarra the perfect location to open Atlas Dining?

It was meant to be. I was originally going to open a restaurant in Sydney, but didn’t have much luck finding the right space. I would get on my bike at night and ride around the streets looking to find for lease signs for hours. I actually moved back to email and by chance my mum sent me an email of this place. Four days later we viewed, and two weeks later we signed the lease. When I got back to Melbourne everything just fell into place and we’ve been able to start naturally. Everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t be happier to be back here.

What do you love most about Melbourne’s foodie scene?

I really like that, in Melbourne, restaurants can cook their own way and have their own service style. There’s no real rulebook here, or if there is a rulebook, there are young people in the industry saying ‘I’m not listening to those rules’ and just doing their own thing. That’s really cool.

What are your interests outside of cooking?

I’m very into running and like to go for a run most days when I can. It’s not always the easiest thing to fit into the schedule. I live close to St Kilda Road so I always go to the Tan for a run. To be honest I also like eating at other restaurants. On my weekends I’ll either be running or eating dinner somewhere else.

What is your favourite thing to do in Melbourne on your days off?

I love exploring the outer suburbs. There are so many hidden gems. One place I love going to for food is Clayton. It’s not the most talked-about suburb, but there’s an Indian restaurant there that is unbelievable. I like going to Springvale a lot. I like checking out the Korean restaurants in the city and then there’s the markets, of course.

What do you love most about living in Melbourne?

I think everyone is easy-going. It’s obviously a big city, but people can be pretty casual and it’s just got a really nice feel to it. It’s not pretentious and I feel it’s very welcoming.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I’ve run two marathons without training!

Charlie's Melbourne Picks

Restaurant Dainty Sichuan on Toorak Road. The fish-flavoured eggplant is absolutely unforgettable.

I do love going to the Alps, just up the road from Atlas. A lot of our guests have pre-drinks there and I know why. It has an amazing wine selection and everything can be taken away, or you pay $15 to drink there, which is a great concept.

Almost anywhere in Fawkner Park. You get this amazing view of the city and it feels like you’re outside of Melbourne, but you’re not.

Free things to do
I’m always into walking through markets, like Queen Victoria Market or Prahran Market, and checking out what’s new there.

Hidden gem
Do a lunchtime tour of Victoria Street in Richmond or a restaurant crawl of Footscray. Both are unbeatable!