Meet the Chef: James Emanuel, Amigos

James Emanuel’s upbringing in a family of food lovers and overseas travel as a child has formed his tastes in authenticity within a dish. 

“My highlight being the time I spent in Mallorca, where the local Spanish food inspired my tastebuds.”

Leaving the UK to travel the world at 19, he worked for a bakery in Southwest Australia alongside pastry chefs and learned to make pies from scratch. Now he is the executive chef and managing director at Amigos. 

For Emanuel, combining traditional and straightforward ingredients is essential to creating a solid dish in any cuisine. Closely followed by textural distinction and presentation of the plate.

The refined taste of Emanuel is reflected in his workings of the menu at Amigos, based in Wanaka and expanding throughout the South Island. The chef places his expertise on innovations that allow all customers to enjoy the Mexican menu, with an increased focus on dietary needs and rising alternative customer demands. 

“An example of this was a large amount of time we spent developing our bench-staple, plant-based aiolis last year. Since then, we’ve been working on making our menu friendly for as many dietary restrictions as possible.” explained Emanuel.

Like most in the hospitality sector, the pressures of staff shortages have resulted in vast issues for industries. Emanuel said the biggest challenge is attracting Kiwis into the workforce after the pandemic. 

The chef values giving insight throughout his career and seeing this implemented in practice. 

“One of my proudest achievements has been bringing skilled labour to both New Zealand and Australia for the last 20 years and having them become residents and pass on their wide and varied knowledge to their co-workers," said Emanuel.

"I have also enjoyed having many apprentices and providing them with a great learning environment and a globally recognised qualification to take away with them.”

Emanuel’s pursuits outside the kitchen reflect his yearning to give back. He volunteers as a paramedic, or supports the community youth football team when not managing an Amigos site.