Taking Auckland's foodie scene by storm, Josh Barlow was recently appointed executive chef of the iconic Sugar Club. He grew up in the Waikato before heading overseas to work in 3 Michelin star Jean-Georges in New York and numerous Michelin star restaurants in London. He returned to New Zealand in 2015, securing a job as the senior sous chef and then head chef of fine dining restaurant The Grove.
He is brimming with personality and creativity and can often be seen on his Instagram foraging for food. But he also has a wicked sense of humour—such is his love for lasagne, he has a large tattoo of Garfield on his arm.
The Urban List recently chatted with the 30-year-old chef about all things food, Auckland and the one skill everyone should master in the kitchen.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m the Executive Chef at The Sugar Club on level 53 of the Sky Tower. I took the helm in May and we’ve just been awarded 2 hats in the Cuisine Good Food Awards after just five months!!! Prior to this I was Head Chef at The Grove and before that I lived in London for eight years. I’ve got an incredibly supportive wife who puts up with all my long hours and two young daughters.
Why did you choose to base yourself in Auckland?
We moved back from London in 2015 to start a family and Auckland was the obvious choice after living in London for eight years. I liked what I saw in the food scene here and when I was offered the Senior Sous Chef role at The Grove with Ben Bayly I couldn’t really say no.
Where do you get your food inspo from?
I spend a lot of time talking with suppliers and talking about what’s coming into season and any new ingredients or anything out of the ordinary that they can grow or source for us. With amazing seasonal produce and top quality ingredients it makes our jobs much easier.
Do you have a mentor, and if so, who?
I guess every chef I’ve worked for along the way has been a mentor in some way. They’ve all helped guide me and show me what is possible to achieve through hard work and determination. I’ve been lucky to work with some world-class chefs along the way—there’s not enough space here to name them all.
Were you always interested in food?
Food was a huge interest for as long as I can remember. I was always hanging around in the kitchen from a young age and then as soon as I learned that I could actually go make a career out of it I never looked back.
When/why did you decide to become a chef?
There was never a decision to make. Cooking people dinner is the only thing that’s been of any interest to me.
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Myself. I’m my own worst enemy.
What’s your go-to comfort dish?
Lasagne. Every f***ing time.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
I love the fact that no two days are ever the same. Every service is different, there’s always a new challenge and we get to hang out in the kitchen with a cool bunch of people all day cooking food.
The obsession. The obsession that drives us to put the food first and work ridiculous hours and push ourselves to the limit. The strain that it puts on our health, our families and our friends. There’s so much chatter about the mental health issues in the industry right now which is great. These things need to be addressed so that the industry keeps moving forward in a positive way.
If you weren’t a chef, what else would you be?
A tattoo artist or a Moto GP racer.
Best cooking skill every person should master?
Cooking meat and fish without a water bath and how to sharpen a knife properly!!
What are your long-term career plans?
Watch this space is all I’ll say.
Where was the last place you went out for dinner and what did you think?
The last dinner out I had was with Megan from Element Foods (one of my amazing suppliers) We went to O'Connell St Bistro for their collaboration with Bradley Hornby from Arbour in Blenheim. It was so great to see so many small NZ growers and suppliers showcased across the whole menu.
What is your favourite place in Auckland to enjoy breakfast?
Breakfast? What’s that???
The closest I get to breakfast is a coffee out at The Grounds in Henderson. It's such an awesome place for the kids to play while we can sit and chill out. And a good chance to usually catch up with Mike Shatura and Ben Bayly.
If you’re out for drinks with friends, where do you love to go?
When friends visit Auckland, where is your first stop?
The Urban List Team are coming for dinner—what will you be making us?
We’re going to start with some fun snacks and our homemade Pale Ale bread with whipped marmite butter. Kiwi as aye… After that we are going to do a five or an eight-course tasting menu showcasing some amazing New Zealand produce matched with some amazing wines from around the world!! Come hungry!!!
Want to get to know another great Auckland chef? Read what FISH executive chef Wallace Mua has to say about food inspo and local hot spots.
Image Credit: Jaiden Bhaga