James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Super-chef opts for taste of home

Master chef judge Josh Emmett told students it's all about putting in hard work. Photo / Christine Cornege
Master chef judge Josh Emmett told students it's all about putting in hard work. Photo / Christine Cornege

If he was on death row and given the right to a last meal of anything he wanted, Masterchef judge Josh Emmett would have no trouble making his choice.

"I get asked that quite a bit but I think it has to be something New Zealand," he said.

"It has to be crayfish or lamb and it has to be pavlova."

The internationally-acclaimed chef who was raised on a Ngahinapouri farm west of Hamilton, was last night presented with an honorary fellowship at Wintec.

The award recognised his feats in the culinary world after the four-star Michelin Chef left what was then known as Waikato Polytechnic more than 20 years ago and worked on the Waipa Delta and at a Hamilton East rest home washing dishes.

Yesterday he returned to his old school where he told an audience in a packed auditorium how within a few years he had gone from working at Auckland's Cin Cin restaurant to sitting in spa pools on superyachts parked off Corsica and working under the tutelage of fiery-tempered chef Gordon Ramsay in London.

"It was a real buzz ... what it gave me was an opportunity to put us out there," he said.

"There wasn't really much guidance, I learned so much off Gordon but it was like "here's a restaurant, do it" and we did some amazing things and met some amazing people."

As he casually whipped up a "fairly simple" serving of cured salmon with butternut squash and soy toasted pumpkin seeds, Emmett said as a student he never envisioned the success he has had.

"Not in a million years ... I never thought I'd make it out of Hamilton," he said.

"But I'm extremely stubborn."

He told the budding chefs that the industry was a "really, really hard" one to make a mark in.

"And I think the reason I succeeded is not because I was always the most talented, not always because I am the most creative - it is because I'm the most hardworking."

"I will work longer, harder and do whatever it takes to make sure I am more successful and outlast and I did outlast a lot of people."

"It's about sacrifices, there are so many sacrifices day after day, missing all of the good times, working Christmases and New Years."

Emmett has overseen multi-million dollar openings of Ramsay's restaurants in London, New York, Los Angeles and Melbourne.

He has named his own restaurant - his first - "Rata".

It opens in Queenstown next month, features local produce and will be a more "sensible" project and low-key affair. "It's based around New Zealand, the name was chosen because we want to do something which is quintessentially New Zealand."

Home for Emmett has been London since May last year and there's also his place in New Jersey.

But he is keen on coming home to New Zealand so his two sons Finn, 3, and Louis, 18 months, could experience some of the lifestyle he had as a boy.

"I always wanted my kids to have the same sort of growing up and opportunities and lifestyle I had.

"I like New Zealand lifestyle and I think it's important they get a taste of it."

- NZ Herald

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