SheerLuxe Meets… Monica Galetti

If you’re a Masterchef fan, then Monica Galetti needs no introduction. The Samoan-born New Zealand chef isn’t just a judge on the BBC cooking show, she’s also the owner of Mere in Fitzrovia and the author of several successful cookbooks, including her latest release At Home. Here, she tells us more about her cooking style and favourite restaurants, and shares some of her best culinary tips ahead of the festive season…

First off, how would you describe your cooking style?
It’s a contemporary mix of everything I’ve learnt in my classical French chef training and my years growing up in Samoa and New Zealand. I’m much more relaxed at home compared to the restaurant though – it’s far less detailed, and I like to keep it as simple and quick as possible. Me and my family are so busy that time together is limited – and precious – so we don’t necessarily want to spend all our time in the kitchen. But I don’t see cooking at home as a chore. My husband’s a very good cook now too and he enjoys it, which is great on those days when I’m too tired to make something!

The two environments are also very different – at home, we’ve always got music playing and at the restaurant, while they might play music up until 11am to see them through all the prep, it’s quiet once service begins so everyone can focus. The team is split up into different roles so everyone has a specific job – it’s a system that works best considering we make absolutely everything in house.
 
What’s your go-to easy midweek supper dish?
We love doing midweek wraps in our house. We’ll poach some chicken and make a good sriracha mayo to go with it. Then, we shred some lettuce, tomatoes and chillies, and lay everything out on the table so everyone can dig in and make their own combinations. It’s a lot less stressful than trying to come up with dishes night after night that everyone will enjoy. I also love Marmite and mushroom pasta – trust me, it’s an amazing combination. I’ve eaten it for years.
 
Any store cupboard essentials you wouldn't be without?
If I could narrow it down to three things it would probably be eggs, brown rice and Marmite, of course. There’s no worse feeling than thinking about how that piece of toast is going to taste in the morning only to find it’s not there. Not to be dramatic, but it can ruin the whole day. 
 
Do you have a favourite breakfast? 
We love pancakes in our house – especially at the weekend. It’s all about the toppings, whether that’s classic lemon and sugar or a decadent chocolate spread. Breakfast has probably taken on more importance to me since I stopped eating after dinner shifts. The team eats beforehand, and I do, too. The metabolism just isn’t what it was to be able get away with those late-night midnight meals now!
 
What are some of your favourite prep-in-advance dishes for dinner parties?
For main courses, it tends to be a whole baked fish or something everyone can helps themselves to, so there’s no need to be divvying out individual portions or making sure you’ve got even quantities of everything. It’s so easy to prepare dessert in advance – it’s one more thing to tick off the list. My favourite is an apple, blackberry and rhubarb crumble. Simply dice the fruit in advance, layer over the crumble and get it in the oven. Then you can just leave it and warm it up when you’re about ready to serve it with cream or ice-cream. 
 
Do you have a favourite cocktail or drink of choice? 
A margarita. Or champagne… or wine. Okay that’s getting quite broad, but I’m very into wine – and whisky too! But if it had to be one thing it’s a margarita – in fact, I love them so much I specifically included a margarita cheesecake in my new book. 

What’s your favourite thing on the Mere menu?
I love the scallop starter we have on there right now – it has a white cannellini bean and black pudding stew that sits underneath it. For the main course, the artichoke veggie option is delicious. It comes in a puff pastry case with a delicate potato mousse over the top of it and grated truffle pecorino. Then, the Hokey Pokey dessert is proving really popular. It’s based on a bunch of my favourite childhood desserts in New Zealand and is like a chocolate delice served with ice-cream with caramel running through it. Honestly, all the desserts on the menu are so good at the moment…
 
What's been your most memorable meal to date?
Recently, we took our daughter to Core by Clare Smyth, which was mind-blowing. It was somewhere my daughter had wanted to go since it opened, so we arranged it as a surprise. Now lockdown is over there are so many places I’m looking forward to going back to – first and foremost it has to be The Oystermen in Covent Garden.
 
Speaking of Clare, are there any other chefs whose work you admire?
I can’t get enough of Rick Stein, I absolutely love him, and then I always find myself going back to Michel Roux Snr and his books on pastry and sauces. His techniques are just so precise and flawless – you can’t go wrong following one of his recipes.

I’m much more relaxed at home compared to the restaurant though – it’s far less detailed, and I like to keep it as simple and quick as possible.

Christmas is coming – do you have any helpful festive catering tips?
It’s funny because in New Zealand, Christmas is so different. It’s summer so it’s all about chilled BBQs and everyone chips in by bringing a different dish and it’s very much a potluck approach. Here in the UK, the weather is different, so the food is heavier and more full-on. Planning ahead is crucial as is an advance shop for things you can store away so you’re not running around last minute trying to find everything. Also, try to cook things you’ve cooked before and find a festive twist you can put onto it to make it appropriate for the big day. You’ll already be confident in the recipe, and it makes all the difference. Like a cheesecake – put some spices or orange twists on it and you’ve instantly made it Christmassy. 
 
Masterchef is back on our screens – anything you've especially loved about this series?
It’s just been wonderful to see the production team again. This is my 13th season, so we’re very tight-knit now. Being back on the show has made me really appreciate what all of us, as chefs, have been through over the last year. They’ve not been able to cook to the level they might have liked so this has given them a bit of a creative outlet when they’ve needed it most. 

What's been the best piece of career advice you've been given?
To leave a bad day behind. No one tells you that enough when things are going wrong. When they do, learn the lesson and move on. Tomorrow’s a new day for you to be able to smash it. If you can’t move on, it takes the enjoyment out of what you do. 
 
Do you have life motto you live by?
Probably to pass it forward. It’s how I like to live my life – it’s important to remember what you put in is what you get back. We should all be trying to help people where we can, whether it’s something specific they need or a little bit of guidance. And don’t expect them to repay you – the goodwill will come back around, so don’t worry.
 
What was the last thing that made you cry? 
The thought of when I left my family back in 2019. It’s been a very long two years for everyone, but especially for those who haven’t been able to travel to see their loved ones. It’s been really hard.

It’s important to remember what you put in is what you get back.

And the last thing that made you laugh?
This is so random, but I’ve recently hurt my knee and the other day I was desperately trying to put some ice on it at home and my dog just wouldn’t leave me alone. He was incessant – trying to jump up on my lap all the time while I was trying to strap this ice pack on. Honestly, I’m glad no one was watching, it would have looked like a comedy sketch or something!
 
Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2022?
I’m due to start working with Seafood Scotland in the New Year as an ambassador – but I have to say, I’m a little apprehensive of going up there in January! I’m also due to cook with my two friends Lisa Goodwin-Allen and Nieves Barragan Mohacho at Northcote for the Obsession Food Festival at the end of January. Also – spoiler alert – but the dates for the next round of Masterchef filming have just come in, so I’ll be back next year. Finally, I’m hoping to get in a trip back home to Samoa. Only now is New Zealand allowing people back in, so I’m crossing my fingers we’ll get the time to visit. I really want to introduce my daughter to the culture.
 
At Home by Monica Galetti is available now. Visit Mere-Restaurant.com.

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