They say that every crisis presents an opportunity. And that’s precisely the case for Charlie Carrington and his ever-evolving restaurant Atlas Dining.
With the coronavirus pandemic crippling not just the hospitality industry in Melbourne, but every corner of the globe, Carrington has found a way to not just survive but thrive.
The South Yarra restaurant has carved out a reputation for completely altering course every four months since it first opened its doors in September 2016.
Carrington and his tight-knit team on Commercial Road throw one menu out and replace it with an entirely different cuisine three times a year. They started with Vietnamese. Then they brought the flavours of Israel to Atlas, before exploring Korean, Mexican and many more.
Now, they are operating under a completely different guise, after shifting course within days of the Victorian government shutting them down last month.
With the stress of mounting bills and the worry of staff unable to make ends meet, Carrington created an eat-at-home version of Atlas, where a new cuisine is released every week and ingredients for three nights worth of meals are delivered or made available for pick-up from the restaurant.
Customers – who are usually accustomed to seeing Carrington behind the scenes at Atlas or glimpses of him zipping through his restaurant – now see him behind his kitchen at home on YouTube and Instagram teaching them how to cook the meals.
Carrington brought the idea to life after his girlfriend planted the seed one night early in the COVID-19 crisis. He slept on it, before sending out an email to his database. When he received nearly 50 responses of interest within the first hour, he knew the concept had legs.
“Basically, when the restaurant was told to shut, we came up with the idea to do the masterclass the next day – it was off the cuff and unplanned, just to see how it was received,” Carrington told Man of Style.
“People really took to the idea and loved it. And we went from there. Now it has turned into something we will continue doing in future.”
Safe to say, the masterclass has been a masterstroke. It has allowed him to retain all his staff and even hire four more former team members to handle the load. Front of house staff now pack boxes instead of waiting tables, while the chefs go to work out the back.
When things go back to normal in the, hopefully, not too distant future, the masterclasses will be here to stay.
“It has been a bit of a blessing in disguise. It has provided us with an opportunity to focus. With running a busy restaurant, it is not always possible to have the time to do something new like this,” says Carrington.
“I’ve always wanted to find a way to do something different at the restaurant. We are a very set menu restaurant, but our menu changes quite a lot. There isn’t much room for movement, everything is very organised. I’ve always wanted to do find another way to service people and this is that.”
At 26, Carrington has already left his mark on this town. People are fascinated by this rising star who travels far and wide three times a year in search of fresh inspiration to transport to his restaurant.
He won’t be travelling any time soon, but the rising star has found a way to transport himself into the kitchens of avid foodies around the city, providing them with an activity that doesn’t involve Netflix or puzzles.
“It is fun to do something new. I don’t know if I would have gone out and done it if we didn’t need to. I’ve always enjoyed sharing recipes and doing videos – and people love that sort of content – but it is not something you go and spend big dollars on with a film crew if you don’t really have to,” says Carrington.
“You don’t just stop what you’re doing and make a YouTube channel with professional videos because it is very expensive and hugely time-consuming. As I’m talking to you right now, I’m at the shops grabbing ingredients to shoot six more videos today.”
While Carrington is still young, he has packed in some high-level experience in the past decade. He spent three weeks cooking alongside his idol Gordon Ramsey in London after emailing the British icon at 16.
When he returned, he worked inside Shannon Bennett’s celebrated Melbourne destination Vue de Monde for 18 months before heading to Sydney where he worked at Marque, ahead of a stint inside Lennox Hastie’s world-renowned Firedoor in Surry Hills.
It was there, centimetres away from the flames every day where Carrington developed some of the skills he now executes at his own restaurant.
“Lennox is a very obvious one when it comes to mentors. I loved working with him, he is an amazing guy and a ridiculously good chef,” says Carrington.
“Sometimes you just really click with people and that’s what happened at Firedoor. When I worked there, it was early days and Lennox is a bit of a control freak. I was pretty much the first chef to run the grill section without him there. I think that was a big sign of respect because he is very particular about how he wants things grilled – and that’s why his restaurant is so amazing because he doesn’t mess around.”
Atlas Dining post-COVID
Atlas was only halfway through serving Lebanese flavours when they were forced to shut their doors indefinitely. If the pandemic ends in the next month or so, they expect to complete that phase.
If it takes a bit longer than that, they will reopen with India. Either way, diners can expect a new Atlas when they return. The restaurant will undergo a facelift while it is closed, ready for a fresh start on the other side.
For more information on Atlas’ at-home dining options, check out the website here.