The Recipe | Josh Emett
By Josh Emett
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking the cookbook authors.
Josh Emett: Hi, I'm Josh Emett, and my book is called The Recipe. It has 150 of the world's finest chefs contributing, with 300 of the world's best recipes.
Suzy Chase: You call the recipes in this cookbook the world's great classic dishes. How do you define classic when it comes to these recipes?
Josh Emett: Well, that's an interesting thing, because when you go down to it, and you dial in about what is a classic recipe, we sort of came back to, the point is, and this is an obscure way of describing it, but it has to be a thing. You know, if it's a thing and it's been a thing for a long, long time, and what a thing means is that it means something to you, or that it's become a classic, it's got an identity in its own right. And so many of these dishes have, they have been replicated, and emulated, and played with, but the base idea of these recipes is that they've been around for many, many years, and they're tried, tested, absolutely loved, and they will never go away. And what were you try to do is give you the sort of best possible version of each one.
Suzy Chase: What did it take to narrow down the most beloved and iconic dishes of the past 50 years? I can't even imagine.
Josh Emett: No, nothing about this book was easy, let's get that out there straight away. We went, basically started compiling a list, and I spent a lot of time just narrowing things down, putting dishes in that I loved. You know, they can't be too over complicated. This is a window into it, I think, into the world of classic recipes. I mean, there's hundreds, and probably thousands more out there. We didn't go too deep into India or, you know, we only scratched the surface of South America, or various places like that.
Josh Emett: So it feels like it's a more of a in-depth version of possibly the Western world, with a lot of dishes that have, you know, whether it's a Chinese or Malay, or other influences or cultures that have infiltrated into that really well. But then, that is possibly seen through my eyes, rather than someone else's. It would be interesting to hear your point of view on that, for instance, of what you think is, what's missing and what's interesting, I suppose.
Suzy Chase: Oh my God. I mean, this is a vast cookbook that's far and wide, but what I've noticed with many cookbooks that span the world, is that the recipes are so lofty and complicated and not geared towards a home cook like me. So I love that you can take a trip around the world with accessible recipes, and you label it at the top of the page with easy, moderate, or difficult. But I think that easy recipes outnumbered the rest. Is that right?
Josh Emett: 100%. Really, if it was too complicated, we wanted a more simplistic version, and where we needed to ask for a more simplistic version, we sort of did. We didn't really want the overcomplicated version, we want the paired back essentials, and these are recipes. Coming back to that point, if you're a person who loves to cook, and loves food, and there's not many people who don't, who don't live around food, or it forms a big basis of their life. These are the recipes that you'd want to have experienced, or the dishes actually, that you want to have experienced, and cooked at least once in your lifetime. And that is also part of it, right. We're giving you the Bible, the essential recipes that you've got to have done once. You've got to have eaten them once, you've got to have experience cooking it.
Suzy Chase: To give the listener a feel of how vast this cookbook is, how many chefs and cooks are featured?
Josh Emett: So, there's 150 chefs from around the world, some incredible names, and incredible chefs and cooks. And, I think there's 300, 315 recipes, and a lot of them, as you said, a lot of them are extremely simple, versatile and easy to replicate at home.
Suzy Chase: Okay, so a little bit about you. So after a career spanning 25 years, most notably working with Gordon Ramsay, I'm most curious about your work on luxury yachts. We have this show here in the states called Below Deck, and I marvel at the top notch dishes that come out of these teeny, tiny kitchens. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Josh Emett: Yeah, it was an interesting experience. First things first, it's a very unusual experience, I think, because you are living an unrealistic life, right. I was on a super yacht for three months and I think I worked for about two weeks of that with actual guests on board. The rest of the time, we're sitting in the South of France living like kings. And I always thought, and this is a terrible thing to say, I don't know about you, but there were two sorts of people I came across. They were either running away from something or they are in it for the money, and I never thought either of those were good things, in terms of, my work colleagues and that sort of thing. Although we were just out there having fun.
Josh Emett: But it was a hugely enjoyable sort of three months of my life, and I was on a great boat with cool people, and we had a lot of fun basically. But what I thought my problem was, was I need to go and do some hard work, I need to go and get back into a hard kitchen, and that's actually when I went back to London and walked into Gordon's kitchen.
Suzy Chase: Well, yeah. I would imagine Gordon's kitchen is harder than a kitchen on a yacht. So the photography in this cookbook is sleek, and straight out of a modern art gallery. For example, the squid ink risotto, the background is black, the plate is black, and the risotto is black, which almost blends together, but it still displays a delicious looking dish. Tell us about Kieran Scott who shot this cookbook.
Josh Emett: Yeah. This is my third cookbook, and Kieran shot all three, and he is brilliant at what he does. And yeah, that black-on-black risotto is just gold. But there's a really clear methodology around the photography in the cookbook. We've got 150 of the world's finest chefs contributing here, some big personalities. And what this book is, this book isn't about them and it's not necessarily about me, it's about the dish, and the dish is what really needs to be represented and shine above all.
Josh Emett: So, we made the call early on, that the photography was... And this is a lot of Kieran, this is Kieran's bread and butter, he is exceptionally good at this. There is a white background or a black background, and they're either shot on a white plate or a black plate with very, very few exceptions. We got the plates made for us from a guy on Waiheke Island, which is an island just off Auckland, here in New Zealand. And once you understand that, and flick through the book, you can very much see that there's no styling.
Josh Emett: When I put food on a plate, it was as it sat, you know, as it came out of the pan, or as it, you know, very natural and sort of unfiltered, and that sort of thing. So it really does represent the dish in its best possible light, and it actually makes it look more simplistic, or as simplistic as it is. Because, you often dress these things up, and that actually, I think, scares people even a little bit more. Where they look at it, and go, "I'm not sure I can make that."
Josh Emett: Whereas, when it's just the tiramisu, for instance, we just took it out of the tray, and put it on a plate and shot it, and it's beautiful in its own right. That's what it comes back to, it's all about the dish.
Suzy Chase: On page 196 you have Leah Chase's recipe for Creole gumbo. Sadly, recently we lost her at the ripe old age of 96, did you know her?
Josh Emett: No, I had never met her, and I was obviously ecstatic to have her gumbo. I've heard so much about it, and I did research on it, so yeah, incredible.
Suzy Chase: After compiling over 300 recipes, did you happen to learn anything new, or a new technique ,or a recipe you hadn't made before?
Josh Emett: Oh my God. You know, this, as I said, this was a challenging project in many... It was one of these things I dived into, right. So we came up with the idea, and we sit on what we were going to do, and away I went. And once I started getting a list of chefs, and they started sending through the recipes, I sort of turned around, and was a bit like, "Oh my god, I've actually got to... A, it's easy to cook your own recipes, because you just cook out of your own head. You know, I had to read, thoroughly, every single recipe, and really think them through. And a lot of them, not a huge percentage, but quite a few, I sat down, and was like, "Really? Okay." You know, it was new to me.
Josh Emett: You were cooking, you know, doing things in a different order than what perhaps I'm used to. So there was a huge amount of, A, learning for me, and doing different styles, and that part was one of the best things about the book for me, but also, there was a huge amount of pressure. You know, I really did feel the pressure in those early days of the book, that the chefs that contributed were allowing me to take their dish, cook it, shoot it, and put it in the book, and trust that I was going to deliver something that was exceptional.
Suzy Chase: That's credit to you I think, too, that they trusted you.
Josh Emett: Well, yeah. Hopefully, yeah. But in the early days, I certainly felt, I was like, "Right, oh my God, I need to really get this. It doesn't just need to be good, it needs to be great."
Suzy Chase: I like that you have notes with every single recipe. For example, with Ruth Reichl's very rich pancakes, you say to use the batter straight away, don't let it stand, and maintain a medium high heat in the pan. Your notes section is so helpful. Talk a little bit about that.
Josh Emett: Yeah. The notes section was really about, if I could take one or two tips on each recipe, and really dial down to the key things, where, if you don't do that you get it wrong. That's really what I tried to focus on. And there's key little chefy things, and often you don't get these. You can sit there and read the recipe through and think about what that is, but when you go through the process of making it with your own two hands, and you think it through, you do hit a point, most times in a recipe, where you go, "You know what, it's simple as using the wrong size bowl," or, you know, I don't know, measured it wrong, or didn't put it on a correct tray, or something like that. It can go really wrong, it's as simple as that. So it's about putting those sorts of tips in there that just keep people on the right track, and make sure they have a success each time they cook.
Suzy Chase: I made two recipes out of this cookbook, the fish congee, Luke Winn's dish on page 166. Tell us about Luke, I'd never heard of him before.
Josh Emett: Yes, so Luke's Vietnamese/Australian, and as far as I knew, I've seen him on TV. And so, the fish congee, I have eaten... It's one of those things, right, so if I'm traveling through Asia, and you go to a breakfast buffet, and they always have congee, right, and I absolutely love it. It's so good, especially when you start tearing into fried anchovies, or sambal, or shallots, or coriander, spring onions, any of those, dried shrimps, any of those things you can throw in there to flavor it, soy Sauce. It's a great dish, it's very versatile. And I do find it one of those sort of heartwarming, it makes you feel a little bit better if you're under the weather.
Suzy Chase: I also made your cream spinach on page 123. This is just a classic dish that I grew up on. Describe this recipe.
Josh Emett: Cream spinach is just gold for me. I mean I could eat it, it's one of those things, there's two things. I love roast chicken right, and I could eat roast chicken and cream spinach every day of the year. Cream spinach is a very technical dish. Even though it is so simple, and it is easy, if you don't blanche and then really wring the spinach out, you won't get that correct finished texture, because it'll... It just keeps... Well, no matter what you do with the spinach it just keeps releasing water or moisture. So it constantly lets down the cream, when the key is to have it completely wrung out.
Josh Emett: I confess, I've ripped more tea towels wringing out spinach than anything else, because I put it all in the tea towel and squeeze it so hard that after a few goes the tea towel rips.
Suzy Chase: You don't know your own strength.
Josh Emett: Well, you can never ring it out enough, right. I've had it so many times where, water keeps coming out, and it lets the whole thing down. It becomes a bit sloppier than it should do. It should be creamy, and beautiful, and green, and delicious. It's a great dish.
Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called my last meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Josh Emett: Oh, I mean, I've been asked that a few times. And, that's a really difficult one, because I don't know that I need to go extravagant. I've had a chef's life, right, I've eaten all sorts of stuff. But you know, that said, I would have to eat stuff like caviar, you know, I do love caviar, a good caviar. I think it's just one of those, world's delicacies that I absolutely love. But on top of that, I could have it with something really simple like you know, a blini, or something like that.
Josh Emett: Crayfish, I can't go past. Crayfish in New Zealand and lobster in America. Crayfish is, they're very similar, but very, very sweet. And then, I know, simple things like a really beautiful dry-aged roast piece of beef is, you can't go past really. And what's good? Or I could choose something from the book for dessert. I mean, to be honest I'd eat anything sweet. I'd eat that beautiful cheesecake that's in the book. I would eat the trifle. Pavlova. Pavlova is always that, you know, if you've eaten a decent pavlova it's very hard to ever go to anything else really.
Suzy Chase: So what's your next project?
Josh Emett: Well, up until now it's really been thinking about the book, and the book has just been released. I'm constantly looking for new restaurant sites, which, I am in the process of doing that in Auckland right now. We are doing a bit of filming on the back of the book, which is really amazing. So we've got a few... I'm doing some filming up in France in four or five weeks, which is hugely exciting.
Josh Emett: And you know, I think, most of all, trying to keep a reasonably balanced life. Because it can't be, you know, you asked that question and it's like, "Oh, it's work, work, work, work, work." But, you know, at my tender old age of 45, I've got a family, and that side of my life is hugely important. So I don't think it can have a discussion like that without saying listen, part of the focus is to have a well balanced life, and actually try and be happy, right.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web, social media, and where can we find your restaurants?
Josh Emett: Social Media, I am mostly on Instagram, so @Joshemett, which is J.O.S.H.E.M.E.T.T. And the restaurants, throughout New Zealand. So I have restaurants, a restaurant called Rata, which is in Queenstown. I have a restaurant brand called Madam Wu, which is Malaysian, and I have four of those throughout New Zealand. And I also have a restaurant offshoot of Madam Wu, called Hawker and Roll, and we have four of those throughout New Zealand as well. So very busy running around New Zealand taking care of those.
Suzy Chase: Thanks Josh, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Josh Emett: Thanks for having me Suzy, it's been brilliant.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram, @cookerybythebook, and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.