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Career

My Restaurant Rules judge Judith Tabron on her road to success

How TV turned the tables for the Auckland restaurateur.

By Kelly Bertrand
Judith Tabron spent years serving lunch to Kiwi reality stars – but the restaurant maven never expected she'd one day become one herself!
More used to hosting New Zealand's glitterati at her glitzy former Auckland restaurant, the tables have turned mightily for Judith who, for more than two decades, helmed the iconic Soul in the city's bustling viaduct.
Now a judge on the inaugural season of My Restaurant Rules, an offshoot of the beloved My Kitchen Rules series, Judith never expected to be on TV when she sold up and moved on from her previous gig.
But the restaurateur says she's never turned her nose up at an opportunity before, so she shouldn't start now.
Judith loved her time alongside the inimitable Irish chef Colin Fassnidge on My Restaurant Rules.
Chatting to the Weekly just before boarding a flight to the US for a well-earned break, Judith says she's taken her famous no-nonsense, firm-but-fair attitude into the show.
"I think they've been saying that about me for a long time," she remarks. "That seems to have been what I was called at the restaurant.
"When we had a party to watch the first episode, it was really funny because apparently no-one could believe I'd score a dish an eight out of 10. That actually got a clap. I think my friends and family thought I was a harder a!@* than I am.
"But the opportunity just came up, and I said, 'Okay!'I never saw myself as a TV star, how does that sound? I actually had a real job. And then all of a sudden, I didn't have a real job."
With an 18-month restraint of trade in place since she handed over the keys of Soul to new owners, Judith found she had a wee bit of time up her sleeve until embarking on her next endeavour.
So, along with a spot of food-fuelled travelling – think Texas and Napa Valley – she's more than happy to take time out to decide her next move.
Certainly, the doyenne has come a long way from the halls of Onehunga High School.
Through sheer grit, Judith became one of New Zealand's first female chef apprentices, and was in charge of some of London's most prestigious kitchens before returning to her Kiwi roots.
Seafood has always been her specialty, and she's seen all the food trends come and go – at the moment nothing quite gets her goat like a steamed bun.
"Oh, the bao buns with the pulled pork! They're everywhere, I'm sick of them. We've been driving around the country, and I'll see them and think, 'Do we really need these in Taumarunui? In Te Kuiti? Taupo?' It's this era's deep-fried camembert from 1979.
"All of these things over the years... What about when we all went crazy with pesto? And the sundried tomato moment? And all the stuffed chicken breast that was around and crumbed forever? It's just, ahh!" she exclaims in frustration.
Colin and Judith serve up their professional opinions as judges on the inaugural season of My Restaurant Rules.
Despite her food trend hang ups – and yes, she was indeed served a bao on the show – Judith loved her time alongside the inimitable Irish chef Colin Fassnidge on MRR, as they travelled up and down the country to neighbourhood restaurants where professional chefs and cooks put their pride and professional reputations on the line in an attempt to win $100,000.
Judith has nothing but praise and respect for the five teams, who hail from Auckland, Waiouru, Nelson, Lyttelton and Katikati.
"They're courageous," she tells. "And they had to take so much time away from their restaurants too. They would have all lost money by not opening their businesses, but hopefully the exposure will be worth it for them."
As a reality TV novice, Judith says she looked to Colin for guidance around the intricacies of delivering feedback, although, she
admits, she didn't get it right every single time.
"He kicked me under the table on numerous occasions," she laughs.
"But it is funny watching yourself on TV. Now I'm thinking, 'Oh, I probably could have described that dish better.' Colin takes a lot longer, but he's so much more eloquent!"
As for her next move?
Even Judith's not too sure yet, though she reckons she'll figure it out over a summer of travelling, lunching with her girlfriends – "I can finally be one of those ladies who lunch!" she laughs – and hiking with her husband, lawyer Nigel Burton.
"I'll reassess everything when I'm lying by the pool!"

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