A formidable figure in the world of food, Monica Galetti, former sous chef of Le Gavroche, opened her debut venture Mere last year, where she plates up dishes that deftly combine her training in classical French cooking with her Samoan heritage alongside a stellar wine list.
Born in Samoa, Galetti trained as a chef in New Zealand before moving to the UK to work with Michel Roux Jr. at the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche as commis chef, before reaching the position of sous chef. At the time, she was the first female chef at Le Gavroche to be given the responsibility of preparing meat and dish dishes – a role previously held exclusively by male chefs.
A familiar face on TV, Galetti has long appeared alongside Greg Wallace and John Torode as a judge on the BBC’s Masterchef, and in 2012 released her first cook book, Monica’s Kitchen. Last year, Galetti opened Mere, in Fitzrovia, with her French sommelier husband, David (ex head sommelier of Le Gavroche), who she met while working at Le Gavroche.
Here, the accomplished chef recalls her early experiences in the kitchen, shares her admiration for Champagne doyenne Madame Duval Leroy and her dreams of becoming a helicopter pilot.
To read our review of Mere on Wine List Confidential, click here.
What/who influenced your decision to become a chef?
I’ve always loved cooking. My mother taught me from a young age and I really enjoyed being in the kitchen with her. Food was an important part of our family growing up, everyone would sit down at the table and have a real conversation, and I think that just stuck with me. Michel Junior and the entire Roux family. They’ve been such an influential force on the British dining scene and are rightly so well respected. Alain Ducasse too – I’m a huge fan – and also the Roca brothers from Spain (another great family).
Can you remember/describe your first shift in a kitchen?
It was a busy event for a hotel, maybe 600 people and we were sent from catering school to help. So many chefs and sending that many covers quickly taught me I’d prefer a restaurant kitchen.
What is your earliest wine memory?
Getting very, very drunk, and not understanding anything about what I was drinking.
What has been your most memorable meal?
I’ve had many, in New York at 11 Maddison Park, but some are memorable because of the company I was with too.
How important is wine to a meal, from a chef’s point of view?
For me its like a fab marriage, great wine matched with food can heighten and open up flavours.
What would be your ultimate food and wine pairing?
Seafood platter and Champagne.
Who is your inspiration in the winemaking and gastronomic world and why?
Madame Duval Leroy, who single handed raised her three young boys while running a Champagne house, something no other woman had done.
Biggest kitchen disaster?
When chefs over salt food.
If you could give your younger self advice starting out as a chef, what would it be?
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
Second to cooking, art is actually another one of my passions. I come from an incredibly artistic and creative family; in fact, one of my cousins Solomon Daniel made two beautiful pieces of art for me which are both hung in the restaurant. I used to really enjoy drawing when I was younger too but that stopped when I started cooking professionally. I guess my creativity is just coming out in a different way. I still like to sketch when I’m drawing plans for dishes. Or…a florist!
Besides cooking, which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to fly a helicopter!
What would be your best piece of culinary advice for an aspiring home cook?
Breathing. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. No-ones going to die if it doesn’t end up looking like it does in a cookbook picture. And like everything else in life, the more you practice and learn from your mistakes, the better you get.
If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, where would you choose?
Somewhere that served great raw seafood dishes as well as grilled meats and vegetables, a fab wine list.
What else would you like to achieve in life?
I’ve got a lot on now, so I guess it would be to improve and do better in what we are currently doing. I’d like to achieve more family time in the near future.
And finally, what is your life motto?
We will get there…