AUSTRALIAN-BORN, NZ-RAISED DARREN JOHNSON IS EXECUTIVE CHEF OF MASU BY NIC WATT
You drive a charcoal 2006 Mazda Limited Edition?
I loved the look of the Mazda 6 as soon as I saw it ... nice lines, shape and leather seats. It has a Bose sound system and a sunroof (but honestly, I’ve never opened it). Mazdas are everywhere in New Zealand so parts and maintenance are cheap and easy to come by — it’s a reliable car. My 6 handles well around the city and on the open road with a good amount of power. It is a hatchback but looks like a sedan and has loads of boot space. It’s an automatic with a sport mode Tiptronic which, when used, gives you more control over the power but drinks more petrol. I have driven manuals all my life so I do prefer manuals over automatics. I like the feeling that you have more connection and control. However, automatics are great for city driving, so they both have their place.
Who else is allowed to drive your car?
My wife, Jennifer, is a great driver so she is the only other person I allow to drive my car and she normally does when I’m out of town. I think she likes the power a little more than she lets on ...
What do you always have in your car?
Water, sunglasses and Panadol.
And do you have a favourite car scene from a movie or TV show?
Anything from The Dukes of Hazzard. As a kid I loved that show. I watched it for the stunts and, of course, Daisy Duke.
And you’re a fan of car racing? I love F1. The speed these guys can handle and the G-forces they are exposed to during the race are awesome. You have to admire them as athletes as well as incredible drivers. I recently went to Bathurst with my two older brothers and nephew. We’re all Bathurst 1000 fans and we watched it religiously growing up. We had drivers we wanted to win. This added a bit of excitement and caused a fair dose of sibling competitiveness.
Lewis Hamilton. I used to be a fan of McLaren when Hamilton and Jenson Button were teammates. I saw some great races but they seemed to lose their edge. Button still races for the team but Hamilton moved to Mercedes. In his first season with Mercedes, Hamilton put them back on the podium, going on to win the championship one season later.
My first car was a red 1978 rusty old Mini I co-owned with a mate. We bought it for $200 for the summer. However, it lasted only three weeks.
Who taught you to drive?
My elder brother, Steven, around age 17. I used to work in forestry down south so I would pester my brother to let me drive as soon as we got through the forestry gates. I stressed him out a fair bit but he did a good job at keeping his cool. There were a few hairy occasions, like when I didn’t understand which way the wheels were facing and nearly drove us off a steep bank. I think a few of the boys would have preferred to walk but I did get better.
If you could go anywhere, in any car with any fellow chef?
I would be in Spain heading to El Celler De Can Roca which is the number one restaurant in the world, according to S.Pellegrino. I would be driving a Maserati Gran Turismo Sport. I’d bring Thomas Keller along for an incredible lunch where we’d taste the creations of the three Roca brothers. Legendary.
And what do you listen to when you’re driving?
I try to listen to something motivational on the way to work — I like to learn while I’m stuck in traffic — or just channel surf.
Great day trip out of Auckland? My family and I like to drive up to Mangawhai. It’s a great drive with the stunning beaches your reward at the other end. We normally take lunch and have a swim with my 2-year-old boy in the shallows of the estuary. It feels like you could be anywhere in the world with its massive sand dunes, crystal clear water and a string of boats bobbing around in the current.