Celebrity chef Josh Emett has compiled a new cookbook with help from the world's best. He opens up on his hardest times.
1 You've just produced your third book The Recipe – what's the concept?
It's like a bible of the 300 greatest dishes of the last 50 years - 150 chefs from around the world have contributed. Classic, simple, humble food dishes done by the chefs who make them best. Everything from scrambled eggs to carbonara to beef rendang. It's been a massive two-year job. We cooked and photographed them all at home. I know about a third of the chefs - the rest I just went and asked. A lot donated their recipes because a percentage of profits goes to Action Against Hunger .
2 You first appeared on screen in Masterchef. How important is TV to a chef's success?
It's been a long time since a chef could hide in the kitchen and that's a good thing. People want to see the person who's cooking the food and understand what they're cooking and why. Food TV is huge because food's such a big part of culture. Life revolves around food in cultures like Chinese, French or Italian. They think about what they're going to eat before anything else. It's not so ingrained in New Zealand culture but it's becoming more so. I know chefs who won't do TV, but I think you have to market yourself to a certain degree.
3 Do you do social media?
My wife Helen's helping me. Our boys are 8 and 10 now so we need to know what they're up to on there. I've learnt Fortnite too. We started an Instagram account a few months ago and we've got 27,000 followers. We post cooking demos several times a week. Whatever we're cooking at home, we video that. We get constantly get people saying, "You guys must eat like kings" but we struggle like anyone else trying to figure out what to cook, so we try to help with easy step-by-step videos.
4 You worked for Gordon Ramsay for 11 years. Do you think his management style of shouting and throwing things round kitchens is helpful?
The old military style of running kitchens was brutal. I've been through all sorts over the years. But there's no room for physical and verbal abuse in the kitchen these days. You do need a lot of structure and rules to get the job done right. It's a performance twice a day and people expect your best every time. You also have a duty to teach your staff discipline and professionalism. I had to find my own management style which I'd describe as very firm but fair. As head chef, I'd lead by example; work longer, harder, faster and cleaner than everyone else.
5 You earned Michelin stars for three of Ramsay's restaurants in London, New York and LA. Did you feel like you'd made it at that point?
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Oh no, I felt like I'd built a good foundation on which to do something better. I'm 45 now and I've got lots more to achieve. I get frustrated when I haven't got projects to work on. I have no problem working 100 plus hours a week. I really enjoy hard physical work. The other day we fed 340 people for the charity Everybody Eats. We all mucked in - it was great fun, really rewarding.
6 Have you spoken to Gordon since you parted ways?
Yes, I spoke to him recently. We began communicating over email and he contributed to the cookbook. I had an incredible time with him. He put me in positions that enabled me to perform on the world stage and I met a lot of fascinating people along the way.
7 Have you been through a tough time in your life and how did you come through that?
Yeah, my Dad died at the time it ended with Gordon. Helen and I had just had our second kid and moved countries three times for jobs that fell through. Everything we owned was in containers on the way to London, so we followed them back to the UK. I was commuting here to work on Masterchef and Rata. It was carnage. I was a bit uptight for a period of time; in a dark space. Helen might say it in different words.
8 Were you close to your dad?
Very. We'd speak several times a week. He's the guy I'd call if something exciting happened or if I was going through something difficult. He was very good on advice, a very good listener. Growing up on the farm you always knew where he was by listening out for his motorbike or tractor. He taught me to hunt and fish. It's been eight years and I don't think about it every day like I used to. Certain moments you realize it more; seeing our boys are missing out on grandparents. I loved hanging out with my Nana and Poppa growing up. But you've just got to get your head down and get on with it, right?
9 You now own nine restaurants, including Rata, four Madam Woos and four Hawker & Rolls, and consult to Ostro and Craggy Range. Do you have a favourite?
Rata - it's the first one I started when I came back seven years ago. Dad and I had a lads trip to Queenstown and had such a great experience. At the time it was devoid of outstanding places to eat and very seasonal. That's changed in the last five years. Cooking's the thing I love most and I still get into the kitchen at Rata. I'm in constant communication with the head chef about menus. Rata's got a life of its own now, so the focus is on Rata's style rather than our own; great food sourced from the region's best seasonal products.
10 You're famous for having a sweet tooth. How do you stay so slim?
I spent years eating the wrong things but by my mid-30s I realised I can't eat whatever I want, whenever I want. If I go out to restaurants, I eat two or three desserts but in our ordinary day-to-day lives we try to eat a well-balanced diet; lots of vegetables, some fruit and protein, not too many carbs and as little sugar as possible. I've always exercised.
11 Who are the chefs you most seek to emulate?
Daniel Boulud and John-Georges are opening high end restaurants one after the other that all do exceptionally well. I love the polished, slick, beautiful nature of their restaurants, the timeless, classic food. They're great business leaders with a high level of professionalism.
12 Do you do a lot of overseas research trips?
Yes we eat in LA a lot. We've got a list of LA restaurants that we often send to people which we're constantly updating with new places like Bestia and Nightshade, and places we always go back to like Gjelina and Manhattan Beach Post – we went there five times last year. The cheese and bacon scones with maple butter are outstanding. Gooey with melted cheese and fluffy whipped maple butter. So good.
• @joshemett appears at The Auckland Food Show, ASB Showgrounds, Thursday 25 July to Sunday 28 July. https://www.foodshow.co.nz/