The celebrity chef

Josh Emett

The creative force in the Madam Woo kitchen, Josh Emett has impressed eaters up and down the country.

Hey Josh, what’s your story?

I was born and raised in Hamilton, but left when I was 20 and didn’t come back till I was 40. Eleven and a half years of that was spent with Gordon Ramsey, which looking back, was big chunk of my career. I spent 12 years in London, four years between New York and Los Angeles, and four years in Melbourne, both in the early and later parts of my career.

I came back home to New Zealand and opened Rata in Queenstown and then started doing Masterchef, but I was kind of still living in the U.K (as my wife is English) and we were really undecided about where we would be living. I spent 18 months commuting between UK and NZ; it was pretty tough. However here we are, and I couldn’t drag my wife away from NZ now even if I wanted to.

What is your philosophy around food?

I use the same approach every time, regardless of what restaurant or what style of cooking, it’s all about the produce. It’s about simplicity, and about ensuring that whatever comes in the back door of the restaurant is great. We use free range wherever possible, and we don’t mind spending the extra money on better products, and although you have to charge accordingly, people are pleased to know where their food comes from.

We try and create the sort of dishes that will make people turn around and want to come back and eat the same thing tomorrow. The hawker rolls are that sort of dish, and often have that effect. My style of cooking is reasonably simplistic, but there’s always a few hidden tricks in there. It’s all about giving the customer food that they know, then surprising them with something that they don’t recognise.

What’s the ideal Madam Woo experience?

We have a few keywords we use for Madam Woo, especially for service staff, which are; fun, energetic, knowledgeable, delicious, genuine. It needs to be all of those things when you come in to have a good time. The vibe has got to be noisy and energetic, food needs to be absolutely delicious, and that will always be a massive focus of ours. We pour so much energy into making sure the food is outstanding and consistent, and that the service is lively and really genuine.

What inspires you?

I get up in the morning pretty fired up about things, as lots of things inspire me. I know what my tasks are for the day and what needs to get done. My staff inspire me, and I’m all about eating out and trying different things.

I enjoy life and I’m definitely not a ‘glass half empty’ person. I love my work, and I enjoy building a brand and figuring out where we take Madam Woo next, and how we can improve it. But in the end, the focus is always on the food, and all the jobs I did in the last three years whether it’s painting walls or changing lightbulbs…the ultimate focus has always been the food. I get up in the morning and make sure the food was better than the day before.