It was always my intention to become a chef. And I’ve always looked up to the Roux brothers. We were shown some of their books in the college where I trained. As part of that training I came over to the UK for a couple of weeks to have a look at the London scene and I just knew it was where I wanted to be.
So I went home and saved some money for a couple of years and then I came back to the UK. Fifteen years later, I’m still here.
You never have control of what happens in life. I became a mum so things had to alter for me career-wise. My husband (David Galetti – Le Gavroche’s head sommelier) and I were looking at buying a restaurant at a certain point, but that had to take a back seat while I concentrated on our little girl.
This industry is a very selfish industry to be in. It has to be your number one priority and I’ve tried to balance that with having a family. I didn’t want to stop working so I managed to keep my foot in the kitchen and be a mum at the same time which is not easy, but it’s ultimately very rewarding.
From day one at Le Gavroche, consistency is something that’s drilled into you, that’s why the standards have been kept so high since the foundations were laid 45 years ago. Under Michel Jnr I think the food has really developed – it’s become a bit lighter in certain parts but it still fits with the Le Gavroche name and with the style of food people expect here.
We aren’t worried by the casualisation of dining that we’re seeing in the capital. You always have to be aware of the changes in customer preferences and food trends, but as long as Le Gavroche remains consistent we will always have people wanting to try our food.
If I was judging the UK restaurant scene, I would say it’s really taken off over the past five years. London, in particular, is really buzzing. I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world right now – we’ve got young chefs like Ollie Dabbous who I absolutely adore, and more established chefs like Jason Atherton, who is really excelling.
Even outside of London, there are the likes of Tom Kerridge and Sat Bains - the dining scene is just phenomenal and we’re really spoilt at the moment.
MasterChef: The Professionals discovered some great young chefs this year. The four chefs that reached the semi-finals were the most prepared.
The chefs that have gone onto win have done great things. Steve Groves is head chef for us at Parliament Square. Derek (Johnstone) is head chef for one of the Roux restaurants in Scotland – it’s a great platform for these chefs to be discovered and given an opportunity when they might otherwise have been overlooked.
Some people think I’m a harsh, mean judge. I’m a chef and you take it as it is. I do get upset and angry sometimes because the Professional MasterChef contestants are representing the chef profession as a whole, and they’re doing it on television. But some people have actually said that I was too kind this year, so I can’t win.
My family will tell you that I’m fair - stern but fair. There’s a time to have a laugh and there’s a time to be serious. I take my job and the television work seriously. You’ve got to be prepared before you enter MasterChef: The Professionals because it’s serious. If you make me something that doesn’t look good then I won’t think you’ve taken it seriously enough.
I really enjoyed having a bigger part in the show this year – I’ve been involved in the whole journey and it’s been great to see the young chefs develop as they came through the competition.
Television is a blessing and a curse for a chef. Sometimes I’m heading into the kitchen at seven in the morning and I have to dress down and hide in a hoody, but they still find me. And then I’m embarrassed that someone’s seen me dressed down in a hoody.
I like hiding in the kitchen but we do get lots of customers wanting me to come out to the restaurant to say hello. It’s fine though, I get to meet some lovely people.
I’d love to open my own restaurant. As a chef, the highlight of your carer is to have your own little place. When my little one is a bit older (she is seven now) we will seriously consider it. I would need to do it with my husband though.
It would be something small, offering good food for great value. I’m not looking to do a posh, fine-dining place - I want something that’s more relaxed and fun. Something outside of London would be best so that I could fit it in with my family life - I’d love to open a place in the South of France.
My advice for young chefs would be to be prepared to work hard. There’s no easy way to start in the kitchen, but if you have the determination, the passion and the drive, then you will succeed. You have to let the bad days go otherwise they will drag you down. Learn from your mistakes and be dedicated. But overall, enjoy what you do.
Monica Galetti is currently working with the Cactus Kitchens cookery school in London. The ‘Monica Galetti Experience’ sees the chef personally teach customers how to prepare a bespoke three-course menu, giving advice and answering any questions along the way. For more information, click here.