The cookbook came about quite naturally in November 2022. I had written a public post on my social media platforms, sharing my struggles with alcohol in order to find healing and support for others in similar situations, especially in the hospitality industry.
During that time, I served as the Executive Chef of Everybody Eats and had the opportunity to work with volunteers and the vulnerable community. Through creating a safe and compassionate environment, they began sharing their stories with me and finding solace in my kitchen.
I realised it was time for me to heal myself from the trauma of toxic kitchens in the past by embracing sobriety. It brought me peace of mind. The team at Motion Sickness, on behalf of Fire and Emergency NZ, approached me for their new "don't drink and fry" campaign. Initially, I had reservations about taking on this project, as a part of me was still struggling to stay away from alcohol. Additionally, my imposter syndrome made me question whether I deserved such an opportunity. However, my optimistic side took over, and I decided to have fun with it. It's a light hearted approach to a serious subject, but I believe a little humour can help to soften the seriousness and reach a wider audience.
Like many others, I began my career as a kitchen porter, washing dishes and handling light prep duties. I then attended culinary school in the UK, where I was selected to work at prestigious locations such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Afterward, I worked in gastro pubs and quickly climbed the ladder to become a licensee, cellar manager, and Head Chef, all by the age of 19. However, I eventually burned out and decided to embark on a journey to South Africa, Namibia, Thailand, Turkey, America, and Amsterdam. During this time, I explored and expanded my palate with new cuisines and cultures.
Upon returning to the UK, I chose to work in fine dining establishments and brasseries under experienced chefs to further refine my skills. By the age of 24, I felt the need for a change of scenery and found myself in New Zealand. I then joined Sue Fleischl of the Great Catering Company, where I had the incredible opportunity to work alongside renowned chefs such as Martin Bosley, Rex Morgan, Al Brown, Geoff Scott, and Michael Meredith.
Following that, I worked under the guidance of Kyle Street at Al Brown's renowned restaurant, Depot. Eventually, I decided to venture out on my own and started a sustainable food truck called Judge Bao. Our popularity skyrocketed, earning us numerous accolades. This success allowed me to collaborate with esteemed entities like Whoop and My Food Bag. I even had the privilege of cooking for celebrities and showcasing New Zealand Cuisine on Holland & America line Cruise liners with my unique Asian fusion menu.
After five busy years, I made the decision to dedicate my skills to helping the vulnerable, working alongside Michael Meredith at Eat My Lunch. I found immense joy in assisting vulnerable communities. It was during this time that Nicholas Loosely, New Zealander of the year and Founder of Everybody Eats, reached out to me. Together, we established the first brick-and-mortar restaurant. I continue to create an amazing environment for people from all walks of life. I work closely with Spectrum Care and various culinary schools to demonstrate how to foster a kind and safe space. Moreover, I catered 3000 covers for TEDx.
Presently, I am the Kitchen Manager at Beau in Ponsonby, where I devote my time to training our younger chefs and helping them become the best versions of themselves. I strive to create a positive environment for them to learn and grow.
Over time, I have developed a mindset that challenges the status quo. I refuse to conform to toxic behaviours or blame the industry for them.
In terms of trends and kitchen culture, I have always held contrarian views. I shifted my approach from the harsh, aggressive, and militant environment I grew up with to a coaching style of leadership. I allow people to make mistakes and ask them to take accountability, understanding that failure is a part of the process of mastering their craft. I don't expect perfection, only continuous growth and improvement.
My passion lies in eradicating toxic kitchen culture and promoting inclusivity for all cultures and genders in the hospitality industry. I am motivated to continue speaking at culinary schools and consulting with businesses that aspire to evolve & improve.
Given the opportunity, I would also like to write a book, although finding the time for it may be a challenge. My ultimate hope is to witness a safer, kinder, and more inclusive environment in all hospitality establishments before I retire. Additionally, I aspire to become a father, as I have spent numerous years nurturing and guiding "Hospo Babies" and assisting them in their personal growth.
Jamie Robert Johnston, the incredibly courageous Mental Health Chef.