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Meet The Team: Johanna Thornton, Deputy Editor

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In this new Q&A series, get to know the hardworking members of the Viva team, as they share the highlights of their role, their go-to restaurants and what they do on their time off.

What is your role at Viva?

I’m Viva’s deputy editor, which means I keep the production wheels turning and make sure we meet our weekly print and daily digital deadlines. I help create and manage our content plan, working as far in advance as possible, in what is always a fast-moving and changeable environment. I work closely with the wider Viva team and our regular contributors to commission stories, photography and video to make our content ideas come to life. I also review and edit a range of content as well as write news and features for print and online, and work on shoots and special projects.

Is there an issue or project you’ve worked on at Viva that was particularly memorable for you, and why?

Producing Viva’s Top 50 Auckland Restaurants with dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan is one that comes to mind. Jesse started this in 2021 to celebrate the hospitality industry after a tough year of lockdowns and disruptions for restaurants, and it’s grown into one of our most popular features.

A lot of work goes into it, from meticulous judging to brilliant writing, photos of all 50 restaurants by the master Babiche Martens, behind-the-scenes video and a whole print issue of Viva dedicated to the awards. As well as being something our readers love, the awards highlight how choice Auckland’s restaurant scene is, and becomes an essential dining out guide for the whole year.

Another memorable project was the first issue of Viva’s quarterly magazine, Viva Magazine — Volume One, which had Mana Mackay on the cover wearing a bright yellow Kate Sylvester suit, photographed by Hohua Ropate Kurene and styled by Viva’s fashion director Dan Ahwa. That magazine was special because it was Viva’s first foray into glossy quarterly magazines, and it was available nationwide (not just via the NZ Herald).

It was a real snapshot of the mood of New Zealand at that time, which was mid-lockdown 2020, when we were looking inward but also seeking connection. We wanted it to be a celebration of Aotearoa’s creative identity in a rapidly changing world and the pages still feel so relevant today. We joked that it was destined to become a collector’s item and now that it’s ceased publishing, that’s exactly what it is for me.

Manahou Mackay on the cover of  Viva Magazine - Volume One. Photo / Hohua Ropate Kurene
Manahou Mackay on the cover of Viva Magazine – Volume One. Photo / Hohua Ropate Kurene

What can people expect from Viva Premium?

Quality journalism from Viva’s editors and contributors curated specifically for our readers. It’s important to platform local fashion, culture and lifestyle stories at Viva.co.nz and we love introducing readers to Aotearoa’s up-and-coming talent. It’s also the go-to place to find out where to eat, what to wear, who to know, what events are on the horizon, where to travel and ideas for how to spend your time. There are some brilliant in-depth stories, as well as light-hearted reads, and how-to guides.

What’s the best thing about your role?

Being the first to know about new restaurants and bars is pretty great. Working with an inspiring team is too. There are so many talented people at Viva, each with different areas of expertise and nearly everything we do is a team effort. I think it shows in the diverse content we create.

Describe your personal style.

I try to wear what feels good. That’s predominantly minimal, classic pieces, lots of denim and black, many oversized shirts, versatile dresses, and always a nicely cut jacket.

What are your favourite New Zealand stores or brands?

What’s the most special item of clothing in your wardrobe, and why?

An Ingrid Starnes coat in the most beautiful shade of dusty pink. It’s a piece my mum (who has the best style) encouraged me to buy, and every time I wear it and receive compliments on it, I quietly thank her. Ingrid Starnes is a made-to-order label now, so for me it feels like a special archival item.

Hotel Ponsonby's enzoni cocktail. Photo / @Hotelponsonby
Hotel Ponsonby’s enzoni cocktail. Photo / @Hotelponsonby

Where’s your go-to spot for dinner and drinks with friends?

Hotel Ponsonby for cold beers, enzoni cocktails and fries. Omni for yakatori and natural wine. Alma for pork pinchitos and manzanilla martinis. Ooh-Fa for pizza and chilled reds. Cassia for korma and G&Ts. Nanny’s for jerk chicken and rum. I could go on.

Coffee Theory on Graham St for oat flat whites, a minute’s walk from the Viva office. They use Alturra beans which is my preferred brand for making coffee at home. Auckland has so many good coffee options though. Allpress is a go-to, as is Daily Bread, Kokako at Commercial Bay and Daily Daily on K Rd.

What’s your favourite meal to cook for company, and for yourself?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s za-atar and sumac roast chicken is a favourite dinner party dish. When I’m home alone I love this rigatoni alla vodka recipe, which is so simple and so good, especially with some crumbled fried chorizo on top.

What else do you read, listen to or watch when you’re not reading Viva?

I listen to RNZ’s Morning Report over my morning coffee and on my walk to work. I read The Spinoff’s news roundup The Bulletin, and The New York Times’ Evening briefing covering the day’s top stories. The Mediawatch podcast is a favourite to catch up on New Zealand media news, as is The Fold. The Front Page podcast is a good shortish listen for homing in on a particular topic.

What’s your guilty-pleasure binge-watch?

I can’t stop watching the Below Deck franchise, maybe because I wish I’d spent a year or two as a yachtie a rite of passage for New Zealanders on their OE. It’s filmed onboard a superyacht during charter season, where you get an all-access pass to the terribly behaved millionaire guests and their outlandish demands, especially on the always stressed and deranged chef, and follow the staff ‘below deck’, where they inevitably hook up, yell at each other and party too much. What’s not to love?

A book you couldn’t put down?

I’m Glad My Mom Died, which is an incredible memoir from former Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy, partly told from the perspective of her as child. It’s a darkly humorous and skillfully written look at her dysfunctional childhood.

On your time off, what do you like to do?

When I’m not dining out, my boyfriend and I like exploring the far corners of Auckland (and New Zealand), going on long walks in random suburbs, parks and beaches, usually followed by a drink in the sun. A recent discovery was the lovely courtyard of The Butcher Baker in Helensville, which is open for lunch and dinner serving mostly organic, local produce, with a big open woodfire oven, and a really good natural wine list.

Duddell's rooftop bar in Hong Kong. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Duddell’s rooftop bar in Hong Kong. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Any favourite stories you’ve written, or features you’ve worked on for Viva?

1. One of my earliest stories for Viva was this interview with the multi-generational family behind the 100-year-old shoe repair workshop, Gemmell’s. They’d just been through a devastating fire and were reopening to the public with a new-look shop, some high hopes, and the same team of craftspeople that have been repairing Aucklanders’ shoes for a century.

2. It was inspiring speaking with Auckland Museum’s head of exhibitions Victoria Travers about her new exhibition exploring gender equality in New Zealand and examining how far we’ve come in the 125 years since New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote. Short answer? Not far enough.

3. Morgan Maw is my hero for creating New Zealand’s first homegrown, homemade oat milk, and it was a pleasure to speak to her about her game-changing product.

4. This review of Fiji’s top-rated romantic resort was a fun one. The luxury resort had no wifi, no TV and no distractions; it was all about you and your lover except I was there alone.

5. I write a lot of food and drink content for Viva, but this round-up of where to eat in Hong Kong is one of the most memorable, covering everything from Michelin star dim sum to rooftop cocktails and the simple pleasure of bor lo bao (pineapple buns), which are soft sweet buns stuffed with huge slabs of cold butter.

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