'15 years a vegetarian and I ate meat'

AIMIE CRONIN
Last updated 14:18 29/05/2014
Josh Emett, food
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Josh Emett cooks pancetta wrapped prawns with garlic aioli and duck with morello cherries from the Master Match website and pairs the food with Villa Maria wines.

Aimie cronin, meat
Nick Reed/Fairfax NZ
FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME: How many people can say Josh Emett cooked the first prawn they had ever eaten? Aimie Cronin can.

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OPINION: I have been a vegetarian for 15 years and, to mark the milestone, I ate meat. I count this story as a kind of confession for my sins, but I blame Josh Emett, if the truth be told.  

When he came a-calling about his new biz Master Match, I agreed to interview him in a somewhat enthusiastic manner.  

I wasn't thinking with my stomach. If I had been, I may have paused to think about the difficult relationship between food writing and the V word. 

The world is being forced to embrace all kinds of dietary requirements these days, but I'm sure most chefs still hate vegos and their  punishment is a single option on the menu that's almost always mushroom risotto.

As I say, I wasn't thinking food when I got the call - I'd heard the guy's a dreamboat and I wanted to see him for myself, just to make sure.  

I drove to Auckland. I climbed the stairs of his new restaurant in Britomart. I found him standing before me. Handshake, niceties, dreamboat status confirmed. Then life hit me, hit me hard. 

''I've cooked up some dishes from the Master Match site,'' he says.

Perhaps there was a moment to protest, perhaps. But it went by so quick! and all I could do was smile and nod.

''Perfect,'' I say, tears pinging in my eyes, a very real threat of laughter lodged down in the back of my throat somewhere.

There is only one hope to cling to in this moment. A side dish of potato that I'll consume with such enthusiasm, he won't notice the absence of meat.

And minutes later I'm sitting opposite him with a plate of prawns and a plate of duck between us, thinking f*** the duck! And how the f*** did this happen? And how the f*** do I get out of it? 

''You go first,'' he says.

I stall by taking out my chewing gum. Fake a phone call, fake an illness, fake any kind of emergency, I think to myself.

I'm so close to tears or laughter. I look at him with an expression of whatever hysteria must look like and he must have thought me crazy. I know what I have to do.I channel my inner food writer. And I eat. 

''Wow ... amazing,'' I say. It's all I've got in the compartment of my brain that speaks meat.

What was it? Oh, I don't know, duck. Duck with morello cherries matched with Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2012, to be precise.

It's a testament to Josh Emett's charm that I swallowed the bloody thing and a testament to his cooking badass-ery that I didn't gag. I'll admit, I kind of liked it. And yes, I feel deeply tormented about it.

The single prawn I ate (Pancetta Wrapped Prawns with Garlic Aioli matched with Villa Maria PB Sauvignon Blanc 2013) was also rather delicious - no, how could it be! - and not at all what I expected. I'm gonna say it was the aioli that made it good, because that's what I need to say to sleep at night. 

And so we chat, and I sip away at the wine and then it's handshake, niceties, goodbye, and I'm off back down those steps, never to be the same again.

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I feel like I've cheated on vegetarians. The duck keeps repeating on me. I buy gum and call my mother.

I go back to Emett's Britomart restaurant for lunch with the taste of meat persisting in my mouth.

The place is heaving and the view is all sparkly Auckland waterfront.

The menu's huge, but one thing is predictable: the single vegetarian option, ricotta and spinach tortelli. I couldn't be happier to see it there.

My lunch date orders the braised duck agnolotti and I gulp - there's only so much dead duck one can handle in a day-slash-lifetime. 

I drive home to a family dinner and my brother greets me at the door. 

How the duck are ya, he says.

And we laugh. 

- Waikato Times

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