It’s a known fact (or at least it should be) that Auckland has some of the best chefs in the whole wide world. And, we’re lucky enough that Hamiltonian Josh Emett decided, after working in Australia and Europe—including a restaurant that was awarded a whopping three Michelin stars while he was working there—came to settle in the City of Sails. And, you may recognise him from his role on televisions Masterchef.
He’s the man behind the Mayfare Group of restaurants, that includes popular Asian fusion restaurant Madam Woo. And when you dine out at Ostro? He’s the man behind that too! We recently chatted with Josh about where he finds his inspiration, his favourite comfort dish and, that essential tidbit—what he’d cook The Urban List team for dinner.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Father of two little lads, husband, chef. Proud owner of Madam Woo restaurants, Rata and food director of Ostro.
Why did you choose to base yourself in Auckland?
I originally lived in Auckland in the early 90’s before I left for London and really enjoyed it then. This time round it sort of just happened, I was living in London but had spent almost six months of that year down here with Rata and filming Masterchef so it started to make sense to move home. I had to work hard to convince Helen as she had only just moved back to the UK after living in Australia and I knew she would settle better being based in big city. Plus, I knew she wanted to be based in the North Island as her sister lives in Hawkes Bay.
Where do you get your food inspo from?
I think I’m constantly finding inspiration, traveling and eating overseas is always a time to try new restaurants, see the new food trends and try new dishes. Sometimes picking up a new cook book can set me off creatively.
Do you have a mentor, and if so, who?
I think as my role in the business arena has grown I am less in need of kitchen mentor and I have sought out people to mentor with business guidance.I have a few different people (who will remain anonymous) that I can call on for various situations. I think it is hugely important to surround yourself with inspiring and humble people who have worldly experience and are happy to provide guidance
Were you always interested in food?
I love food and I love eating and I also really enjoy the experience of restaurants, whatever form that takes, fine dining, street food or a good burger. I know my initial love of food stemmed from my terrible sweet tooth, I baked a lot as a kid, to keep me out of trouble and as mum encouraged it as she said we could eat anything we made.
When/why did you decide to become a chef?
It was something that I started to interest me as a teenager when I could see a career in a 9 to 5 office was not something I could see myself doing. I never felt particularly inspired by my school so the traditional education path never appealed. I wanted my studies to be more practical so when I left school I applied for Waikato polytechnic and thankfully was accepted, the rest as they say is history
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Having the tenacity to stick with my chosen career through the tough times in those early days, I pretty much disappeared into a world of long hours and late nights and made many sacrifices along the way barely seeing friends and family. I’m grateful it paid off in the end.
What’s your go-to comfort dish?
As a chef it would all depend on who’s cooking and how long my day had been. If I’m tired and been surrounded by bold flavours and rich dishes then I love egg on toast. If my wife’s cooking then I love roast with all the trimmings—she makes a mean roast. That and her curries.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
I get to go to work everyday and do something I love. I get a great deal of job satisfaction, I wouldn’t say It is the easiest career with the hours and life you lead but if you love food and cooking there is no better job.
The crap pay when I started out, I lived in London for years on peanuts and hardly had any time off. I pretty much worked seven days a week.
If you weren’t a chef, what else would you be?
I would want to be a professional tennis player or a golfer, I am not sure I could be though…
Best cooking skill every person should master?
Cooking the perfect eggs, scrambled, poached, boiled or fried. Such a simple task but so hard to perfect.
What are your long term career plans?
Right now I am focused on building Madam Woo brand and seeing that continue to be a success as well concentrating on my other businesses and exploring new opportunities In the restaurant space.
Where was the last place you went out for dinner and what did you think?
Musashi Japanese in St Heliers, which is a local spot for us, we go here often with the kids it is a favourite for them, they also do a salad there which I love and usually have to order another it’s so good.
What is your favourite place in Auckland to enjoy breakfast?
I often grab a coffee in the morning at The Store in Kohi, they know what they are doing and look after the locals. I like to eat breakfast at home as it’s a very important meal and normally my chance to sit around the table with my boys. I have been known to cook each person a different type of egg!
If you’re out for drinks with friends, where do you love to go?
In Auckland people are less inclined to just grab a drink, I nearly always get dinner. I like good cocktails so I often start my evening with something strong. If I’m out I like heading to Seafarers for a night cap.
When friends visit Auckland, where is your first stop?
I love taking them to Waiheke, we nearly always eat The Oyster Inn, Jonathan and Andrew are good friends of ours and is very handy for the ferry.
The Urban List Team are coming for dinner—what will you be making us?
If it’s summer then we would have a BBQ. Expect pancetta wrapped prawns, lamb kofte, turmeric chicken accompanied with a selection of amazing salads. All things from my BBQ book.