We chatted to Monica Galetti ahead of her appearance at the Eat & Drink Festival which takes place in London from 17th March – 2nd April.
So, I hear you’re taking part in the Eat & Drink Festival?
Yes, it’s a festival I haven’t done in a very long time so when they asked me if I’d take part this time, I said yes. It will be nice to go and back, and it’s always a nice way to touch base with the industry as well.
Do you know what you’ll be doing yet?
It will definitely be something seasonal and possibly something off the menu. I currently have a pumpkin dish on with the anchovy crumb and caramelised chestnuts. I’ve been tossing up between that or a scallop dish that I do – it has wild mushrooms and a scallop skirting that goes around the actual scallop shells, it’s a bit like tripe, and a parsley crumb. I’m tossing up between the two.
Has your family background contributed to the way you cook?
Absolutely, I’ve trained in a French kitchen for most of my career but the fundamentals as who I am as a person and as a chef are from my upbringing, and a lot of it is influenced by my travels.
What made you move to England?
I love the UK. I came here back in 1997 and just loved the fact that you could access Europe so easily. The food scene has exploded since then – it’s much more modern, there’s a lot more variety, it’s insane. Initially I was only coming over for a year, back in 1997, and here I am, still here.
Do you call this home now?
One of, yes. I call England home. I call New Zealand home and when I think of parts of Samoa I call that home. I think I am very lucky to be able to call so many places home, but for the time being, this is our main home. We love it here.
So, you said the restaurant scene was very different back in the 90s?
Absolutely, back then it was either fast food or very high-end Mayfair sort-of restaurants, you know, fine dining, so it was quite extreme. And then you slowly started getting into more relaxed dining but still with that high quality of food, and now you’ve got restaurants that only have 10 tables or 22 covers, the term ‘gastro-pub’ started appearing maybe 10 years ago, and I think now in the hospitality industry chefs are more supportive of where we source from, and trying to be more environmentally aware of what we use as well.
What do you think will be some future food trends?
Oh god, I am not about predicting trends! People are definitely eating more healthy, and the emphasis is more on a lifestyle awareness now I think. People want to know what goes into their food, and it might just continue on an upwards spiral.
Would you say that the hospitality industry is very male-dominated?
It depends – definitely not in my restaurant! I can’t speak for the rest of them, but I know there are a lot of women out there. It used to be very male dominated coming up through the ranks when I was much younger; there used to be times when I found myself the only female chef employed in the kitchen over a couple of years, and then sometimes there can be five or six women. I definitely feel like there are more female chefs out there, and I definitely have a few in my kitchen, and that’s not intentionally, I don’t advertise just to employ women, but I so happen to have seven in my team out of 12 chefs.
Did you ever think you’d become a celebrity chef and appear on TV?
That was never on the agenda, that was sure chance that it happened. The whole goal of everything was to be a chef and have my own restaurant, but television was just a chance that came along and I took the opportunity while it was there and it’s just grown from that.
What’s it like working on MasterChef?
It’s like having a little family. I spend two and a half months in such an intense space with my colleagues, and I don’t just mean Gregg and Marcus, I mean the crew. Everyone keeps coming back, from the floor manager to the runners. They are the people that make me want to go back. This is my tenth year of Masterchef, I know, I’m getting old!
I know, it’s turned my hair white!
Do you prefer being in the kitchen or being on the TV?
Being a chef is what I do, so the television provides opportunities to travel the world and meet people, and of course, that in hand brings something to the restaurant, but first and foremost, my first love is being a chef – and a mother.
Savour reader question from Anna Simpson via Facebook: You’re a great mum, do you spend a lot of time cooking as a family and do you think that’s an important part of family life?
I think it’s a very important part of family life, and being able to put the phone down, the iPad down, turn the TV off and put on some music and we all sit around our island and cook together and talk and have a conversation, and it’s just so important and so special. We rarely get time together the three of us, so Sunday is very special for us, and I like that. And for me as a parent, she’s just growing up too fast, and it’s too easy to just ask, ‘how was school?’ – she’s 11, you just get monosyllables ‘fine’ – you need to make an effort and to dig deeper and know what she’s about and know what she’s feeling. For me it’s just so special to feel that connection with her and to keep on growing.
Last year you opened your own restaurant, Mere. Was that a dream that’s now been fulfilled?
Absolutely! I can’t articulate how it feels to tick that box in your lifetime, something that you’ve wanted to do for so long. And not just be able to do it, but do it well and to be very fortunate to have great employees that support you throughout. We’re enjoying it, we’re almost a year old, and we’re just having a great time. It’s tough as hell, but it’s the most rewarding thing that my husband and I have done as a family.
Monica is appearing at the Eat & Drink Festival which takes place in London from 17th March – 2nd April. To find out more visit www.eatanddrinkfestival.com