If I said name me your favourite chef you’d most likely name one of the ‘big 3’ which, in the UK, is Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, depending on who you are. But why? Well because between the three of them they’ve taken up substantial screen time in our homes ever since the late 90’s and early 2000’s if not before that. Who can ever forget The Naked Chef in which started in 1999, with a young long-hair lad named Jamie Oliver from Essex who liked to cook for ” the mrs”? But who would we pick I heard you ask? Well I’m glad you asked.
On The Interview this time round we sat down with a more than decent chef and all round nice guy, Josh Emett, our favourite chef of the moment. The New Zealand born and raised chef is the Co-founder of the ever-popular restaurants Rātā, Madam Woo and Ostro. Emett is going through a surge of popularity at the moment after his latest book The Recipe was published earlier this year and his savviness (or his wife Helen’s savviness – for those of you interested all of Josh’s content is shot with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 ) for social media. Known for his incredible flavour combinations as well as his take on classic recipes this culinary master is making a name for himself outside of his native New Zealand and a quick glance at his Instagram will show you why.
Chef Josh talks all things food, from his days working under celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Claridge’s and the Savoy Grill in London to creating The Recipe and how he’s adapting to to social media age, using it to create quick and easy to follow recipes….
Josh, thank you so much for sitting down with us today. I’ve been a follower of your career for a while now and personally I think you’re one of the greatest chefs to grace this world. As a cooking enthusiast myself, I find that I’m avidly checking your Instagram each day to see what you’ve been cooking up. You seem to be very good at social media content, does it come naturally?
JE: Initially it was a real learning curve to get up to speed but my wife Helen helps me with my social media and together we seem to be doing an alright job! I have had my Instagram account (@joshemett) for a few years now but only really started to make this a focus at the start of the 2019 and have grown our followers quickly with great engagement. We post cooking demos several times a week to help people with the pain point of trying to figure out what to cook for dinner on a nightly basis and we get great feedback. Whatever we’re cooking at home we video and post. 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.
You’ve had quite a career, starting by moving from your native New Zealand to work with Steve Perry at Coast in Mayfair to moving back east to Australia and working at Est Est Est, then moving to the south of France to work on luxury yachts (I’m exhausted just listing them). You finally settled back in London under no other than Gordon Ramsay, working with him for 10 years. What was all that like as a young chef and in those environments? Is the industry really as brutal as everyone makes out?
JE: 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 am hugely passionate about my work, I lead by example; work longer, harder, faster and cleaner than everyone else.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on your new book The Recipe and I love it. Its sleek and well designed and you’ll be glad to know it’s now my go-to in the kitchen. What inspires your cooking? A lot of your recipes are classics done well, not overly flamboyant or self-indulgent, which for a chef of your background is a miracle. Were you not tempted to go over the top?
JE: We wanted to do a book with a difference that celebrated the classic recipes of the world backed by the world’s finest chefs who represented the dishes best, It was always a hugely ambitious project and one that was a real journey for me but we stuck to our original concept and idea the whole way through no matter what obstacles came our way and I think that is reflected in the outstanding end product.
With over 300 recipes to cook my way through I learnt a huge amount and followed the recipes verbatim which stopped any temptation to go over the top! I often cook with what I know so to follow someone else’s recipe and recreate the dish was a very rewarding and also put me under quite a lot of pressure. There were many times I read recipes and was really not sure if they would work but had to trust them, so I picked up some great tricks.
From your Instagram stories you’re a music man when cooking, like myself, What are your 10 go-to tracks when in the kitchen?
JE: I have such an eclectic taste in music that it’s too hard to narrow down to 10 go-to tracks as what I’m listening to varies dependent on my mood on the day and can also be influenced by what I’m cooking.
My kids love to make playlists so we often take it in turns. We love live music and have been to Coachella for the past 3 years and took the kids to Austin City Limits last year. They have developed really good music taste and they will choose from Kygo, Odesza, Khalid, Drax Project, Ed Sheeran or even old school 70’s or 80’s etc. My cooking demos on my Instagram also have music playing in the background and I’m often asked to share my Spotify playlists. I need to get on to it.
We all know failures in the kitchen happen, it’s a part of the process even with the pros. Can you remember what was your biggest failure or mishap has been in the kitchen?
JE: True, it happens to the best of us. When I was working for Gordon Ramsay I had a fail with a Chocolate Fondant Dessert. I had a table of 8 on a set menu and ended up having to cook about 32 fondants to get eight desserts as they kept collapsing. Each time I cooked a batch I was short one or two and had to redo the whole batch. Thankfully the guests didn’t notice.
You come across as a gentleman and pretty laid back. But we all know – and I’m sure you witnessed first hand – that a number of chefs, like Mr Ramsay himself, used to have a certain way of dealing with difficult customers, namely telling them to get the f**k out. Do you find difficult customers should be coddled? Or are you old school in your approach?
JE: Our customers and their experience in our restaurants obviously come first but I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who treat our staff badly, if you have certain regulars who tend to behave that way sometimes it is key to make sure the team member that is looking after them can handle them and keep them under control.
If we were to walk into your restaurants Rata or Ostro for a meal today, what could we expect?
JE: With any of my restaurants I always want to ensure guests get a great dining experience. This comes down to every element, not just the food but also the service and environment.
Great food sourced from the region’s best seasonal products is also an essential.
What would be your one piece of advice for anyone looking to enter the culinary world as a profession?
JE: Got for it, it is a great industry and profession which can give you a huge amount of satisfaction. It is more of a lifestyle than a job in my opinion. Don’t get into it if you are not 100% passionate about it.
In the lead up to the new year and the typical self analysis of ourselves, I want to know what you think you could have done better this year and more importantly what’s next for you Mr Emett? World domination? Another book?
JE: I have definitely left myself open for follow up books as it was a real struggle to narrow down the list to just over 300 recipes. We covered many areas of the globe but there are still areas we didn’t touch. I think what we have achieved though is a timeless reference of some of the world’s best dishes that people who love food should cook at least once In their lifetime. At the moment we are also looking to film these amazing dishes featured in the book with their contributing chefs and perhaps turn it into a TV show.
In the short term I will continue to focus on my restaurants and also have an exciting project coming up in 2020 – watch this space!
We love the stories you do with step by steps for different recipes. The recent Pecan Pie one was a particular favourite of mine. Could you share with us one full-proof recipe for cooks of all levels?
JE: There is an amazing quick pecan pie recipe in my Instagram so head there and you will find that along with many others in my highlights.
You can stay up to date with Josh Emett on his Instagram @Joshemett