• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Chef Josh Emett shares the recipes 'you should cook once in your lifetime'

Chef Josh Emett. Photo/© Kieran E. Scott.

Chef Josh Emett has scoured the world to create a “food bible” of classic dishes from the past 50 years.

The origin of Josh Emett’s new book The Recipe came from a very particular need, in a very particular moment. “I just found it really hard to find all the recipes you might need in one place,” he says, remembering a dinner party a couple of years ago. That weekend, with friends coming over, he found he didn’t have a single recipe for prawn cocktail, despite owning a wall of recipe books. “You can go online, but I couldn’t find one in my cookbooks.”

It took two years to put together, but the result is a beautiful collection of 313 recipes divided into nine sections (from soups to basics via poultry, desserts and sweets) from chefs as varied as David Chang, Al Brown and Maggie Beer, with 250 handsome photographs by Kieran E. Scott.

Despite being largely a collection of other people’s dishes, The Recipe feels very much like a natural extension of Emett’s own cooking. The Michelin-starred chef returned to New Zealand seven years ago after working as one of Gordon Ramsay’s lieutenants, opening restaurants in Los Angeles, New York and Melbourne. He now owns a number of establishments around the country, including Rata in Queenstown – where he spends several days a month and where he’s working the day I call.

Read more: What Josh Emett eats | Be in to win a signed copy of The Recipe by Josh Emett

There, the approach is highly seasonal, using as many local producers as possible to celebrate the distinctive produce of the area, from venison and fish to cherries and apricots, not to mention pinot noir. “The seasons happen quite differently to the North Island,” he says. “They’re weeks apart. But then it’ll start and finish here later.”

In some ways, The Recipe takes a similar approach to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or Simone and Ines Ortega’s 1080 Recipes, first published 40 years ago and given to generations of newlyweds as the definitive book of Spanish home cooking. “The whole idea is classic recipes for the home cook that you should cook once in your lifetime,” he says, “and recipes by the world’s best chefs who, in general terms, represent those dishes exceptionally well. It’s about getting the best possible version of a recipe.”

Emett started with a list of dishes he thought were classics from the past 50 years or so, then sought out distinctive versions from chefs he admired. “It’s a weird way to put it, but if it’s a thing, and it’s a thing for a reason, it has to be in there,” he says. “Those things that are ingrained in our lives – dishes so well loved they had to be in there.” Then, he cooked and styled 250 of them to be photographed at his home in Auckland’s Kohimarama – a process that discounted a couple of big-name chefs who didn’t trust anyone else to shoot their recipe.

It was an education. “Everyone cooks differently,” he says, “and I learned so much through the process. It was really interesting, I’d be like, ‘Oh, my god, really?’ And then I’d cook it and 99% of the time I’d be pleasantly surprised, whether it was great technique or great ways of doing things or use of ingredients.”

Inevitably, his exhaustive research process means the book has had an impact at Rata, too. “For years, I’ve relied on my own recipes,” he says. “But it’s got me back sniffing around in other people’s recipe books again. It was a massive learning curve for me, and a humbling experience to cook so many people’s dishes and put them on a plate.”

Below, we feature one of the recipes from the book. Check out the latest issue of North & South for more recipes and enter our online competition to win one of five signed copies.

Left: The Recipe by Josh Emett, image copyright © Kieran E. Scott, design copyright © Blackwell and Ruth Ltd, 2019. Right: Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Green Shakshuka from The Recipe by Josh Emett, image copyright © Kieran E. Scott, design copyright © Blackwell and Ruth Ltd, 2019.

Green Shakshuka

Greg & Lucy Malouf

Extracted from The Recipe by Josh Emett, with photography by Kieran E. Scott (Upstart Press, $50).

Complexity: Easy
Prep time: 20 minutes 
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4


  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2 long green chillies, finely shredded
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaped tsp ground coriander
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium-sized courgette, coarsely grated
  • 4 loosely packed cups (120g) of spinach (thoroughly washed)
  • 2 cups (60g) kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 ripe plum tomatoes, grated
  • 90g yellow plum tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 8 free-range eggs
  • 2 tbsp finely shredded parsley
  • toasted sourdough bread, to serve


  1. Heat an overhead grill to its maximum setting, or heat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Heat a small paella pan (25-28cm diameter) over a medium heat and add the oil. Fry the spring onions, chilli, spices, and garlic until fragrant, then add the courgette and fry for a minute.
  3. Add the spinach, kale, and the grated tomatoes and cut yellow plum tomatoes; season with lemon and sea salt, mix, and cover until the leaves are just wilted and the tomatoes soften slightly.
  4. Make 8 indents in the vegetables and crack an egg into each. Cook for about 2 minutes on the stovetop and then transfer to the grill or oven for a further 2 minutes, until the tops of the eggs are set but they are still runny in the centre.
  5. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with toasted sourdough bread.

This article was first published in the May 2019 issue of North & South.

Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email.