I have recently taken possession of the first cookbook by Samoan-born, UK-raised chef Monica Galetti. Since heading to Britain in the late 90s, Galetti has gained an equal mix of respect and fear, not only as the senior sous chef at Michel Roux Junior's Le Gavroche restaurant in London, but as one of the judges in UK Masterchef Professionals; she is seen as the serious, badass judge - firm but fair, a tough nut to crack.
So it's perhaps a surprise that her cookbook comes over as being relaxed, homely, convivial. Most of the dishes are family-style food - her style is described as a combination of French, Samoan and Asian - a world away from the two-Michelin-star-style food she cooks at the restaurant.
By way of celebrating the book's release, and her recent visit back to New Zealand (I gather she is a passionate All Blacks supporter - she would doubtless have been enjoying their exceptional recent form), I posed her some questions about her life as a chef, her role in Masterchef, and the food she loves.
What motivates and inspires your cooking?
Lots of things, new seasonal availability of ingredients, a painting, discussions about food with colleagues.
How important do you think it is to study cooking - i.e. in culinary institutes, as opposed to learning on the job, in a real live kitchen?
It helps gain a basic understanding, but working in a kitchen and learning "hands on" is one of the best ways to learn.
Would you seek to hire someone with formal qualifications by preference?
No. Someone without formal qualifications can still have the most amazing CV.
How do you feel about the Masterchef phenomenon? Do you think people see it as a shortcut to success, rather than doing the hard yards in a commercial kitchen?
Not in the UK Professional series - all the winners from my series have gone back to the kitchens, a few to Le Gavroche, and a few have gone on to become Head Chefs. But possibly through other series, some may do it to become this insane celebrity chef - this is where the "Professionals" series differ, I find.
And what do you make of the Australian and US versions of the show?
I have honestly never seen them, so I can't comment...
What would your advice be to young chefs as to how to progress in the industry?
Be prepared for long hours - take in the good and learn!
What do you cook at home on days off?
Simple and nutritional fare.
What is your favourite type of food?
Spanish Catalan and Asian.
What kitchen staples do you keep on hand that you think every home should have?
Puff pastry, lardons, nice quality pasta, garlic, onions, fresh herbs.
Where is your favourite restaurant, and why?
Cellar Can Roca in Spain - I love the family unity and the ethos behind the food and wine. I'm going to work there for a week at the end of October.
Are people intimidated by the idea of cooking for you?
Yes, all the time!
What are your immediate future plans?
I have a few years more as a Masterchef Professionals judge, and I will possibly write another book, but my focus is on my daughter mainly.
So there you have it - some pretty straight up answers to some questions, perhaps offering insight into Monica Galetti's working methods. I would suspect she has precious little time for time wasters, or those who are less committed to excellence than her, and that her BS detector is finely tuned - you would have to be that way to succeed in her line of work.. The book, likewise, is very direct - and I like it. It offers suggestions and recipes to help you prepare delicious meals at home, even when you have little time to do so.
Have you seen Monica on UK Masterchef Professionals, or even dined at Le Gavroche? What other cookbooks have taken your fancy of late?
Monica's Kitchen is published by Quadrille, and available from bookreps.co.nz and bookstores, RRP $49.99
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