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‘I tried guinea pig – a whole one, like a rat’: Monica Galetti’s life in food

The top TV chef, 47, tells Tom Parker Bowles about unlikely delicacies, family feasts on her Pacific home island and making it in a male-dominated career

I grew up in Samoa, in the Pacific. I remember running around the family plantations, collecting eggs, picking pineapples and helping the uncles prepare bananas they would bake in an umu: a traditional oven, where food is baked on hot volcanic rocks.

In our culture, girls were taught to cook from a very young age. I always loved being in the kitchen because that’s where all the gossip happened. In Samoa, there’s a whole family network. My aunts raised me and my siblings, so my mum could work and support us all.

They would do a lot of cooking during the week then, at the weekend, it would be a big family affair where the uncles do all the muscle work, like a whole umu-roasted side of pig.

Moving to New Zealand in 1983 was a massive shock. Mum took up cooking again, and our diet changed. Sugar was very new to me because I grew up eating fruit, but I did like cream buns with raspberry jam.

The top TV chef, 47, tells Tom Parker Bowles about unlikely delicacies, family feasts on her Pacific home island and making it in a male-dominated career The top TV chef, 47, tells Tom Parker Bowles about unlikely delicacies, family feasts on her Pacific home island and making it in a male-dominated career

The top TV chef, 47, tells Tom Parker Bowles about unlikely delicacies, family feasts on her Pacific home island and making it in a male-dominated career

As the eldest girl, I had to take over the cooking from Mum and Dad when they were working. I remember being about 11, and coming home from school, and putting the potatoes on, then going out to play. Then forgetting about them and the kitchen being filled with smoke.

It was tough growing up, and we’d use cheap cuts like lamb flaps and split pig’s head. There would be stews, and Samoan chow mein. My dad grows his own fruit and vegetables, so they would go in too. He would always destroy whatever we’d planned for dinner, finding any vegetable that was starting to go off in the fridge, and randomly adding it to our dishes.

When I was 18, I did a diploma in hospitality and tourism. You had to spend time in the kitchen.

I watched the chef doing classic chocolate-cake piping, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I knew cooking was for me, and never looked back.

I originally came to London in 1995, as part of my training, and fell in love [with the city]. I came back in 1999 and sent my CV to everyone. Michel Roux Jr was the first to reply. He always said it was only because I had an interesting last name! [Galetti’s maiden name is Fa’afiti]

Le Gavroche was a tough kitchen. Nothing less than perfect was good enough. Chef Albert [Roux, the patron] would walk in and there would be silence. But when he gave you praise it was the most amazing feeling. What

I loved was that nothing was off-limits. You could ask anything, and Michel [Roux Jr] would have a conversation with anyone.

It was tough growing up, and they'd use cheap cuts like lamb flaps and split pig's head. There would be stews, and Samoan chow mein. Stock image used It was tough growing up, and they'd use cheap cuts like lamb flaps and split pig's head. There would be stews, and Samoan chow mein. Stock image used

It was tough growing up, and they’d use cheap cuts like lamb flaps and split pig’s head. There would be stews, and Samoan chow mein. Stock image used

Monica grew up in Samoa, in the Pacific. She remembers running around the family plantations, collecting eggs, picking pineapples and helping the uncles prepare bananas. Stock image used Monica grew up in Samoa, in the Pacific. She remembers running around the family plantations, collecting eggs, picking pineapples and helping the uncles prepare bananas. Stock image used

Monica grew up in Samoa, in the Pacific. She remembers running around the family plantations, collecting eggs, picking pineapples and helping the uncles prepare bananas. Stock image used

Her final dinner would involve lots of seafood – an outrageous platter of everything. Stock image used Her final dinner would involve lots of seafood – an outrageous platter of everything. Stock image used

Her final dinner would involve lots of seafood – an outrageous platter of everything. Stock image used

There were usually many more men than women in the kitchen, but it wasn’t a worry. I come from a family of boys and fist-fighting was part of life.

I believed that once you had a chef’s jacket on, you were fair game. You wanted to do what the guy next to you was doing and show you could do it better.

I tried guinea pig in Peru – a whole one that looked like a rat. I’ll try anything once. Saying that, I draw the line at things that aren’t necessary. I won’t eat whale, even if it’s on the menu.

Oka, like a Samoan ceviche with coconut milk, is a favourite comfort food. I also love barbecues with lots of veggies. And good pizza too.

I always have cheese in the fridge, especially with my husband being French. As well as berries, ginger and garlic (my necessities), yogurt and plenty of fruit and vegetables,

My final dinner would involve lots of seafood – an outrageous platter of everything. And an endless supply of rosé champagne, seeing that my last meal will go on for ever.

Mere, Galetti’s restaurant, is at 74 Charlotte Street, London W1; mere-restaurant.com

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