Cocktails and Drinks

Cocktail hour: Monica Galetti

The chef may serve up a scary side on TV, but she can do soft, too

You’ll know Monica Galetti as that scary chef from the melodramatic BBC programme MasterChef: The Professionals. She arrived on the show in 2009 as a kitchen henchwoman, prodding, staring and generally concluding, “No, no, this will never do for Chef Michel” — Chef Michel being Michel Roux Jr, another judge on the show and her real-life boss at swanky Le Gavroche in London.

Roux quit the show in 2014 . The following year, Galetti left “Le Gav”, after 12 years. If all has gone to plan, her first restaurant opens tomorrow, on Charlotte Street, in the West End.

This is where we’re drinking. Mere — pronounced “meh-ray” and named after her late mother — is an airport-loungey space with marble tables and Samoan prints on the walls. (Galetti, 41, grew up in Samoa.) The food will be “modern”, less French and more exotic than at Le Gavroche, with dishes focusing on a single ingredient. The atmosphere will be more casual, but “please don’t compare. We’re not aiming to be the same or to be different.”

I love having a laugh, but if you mess around you’ll be the first person to know about it

At least this is where we’re meant to be drinking, but Galetti is still in her chef’s whites, dealing with air conditioning and an iffy drain. She has just given her front-desk girl express permission to break the hands of anyone who moves the front-desk girl’s notebook again, then she stops to give another colleague a warm, soppy hug.

So is she a kitchen bitch, or really just a big teddy bear? “It’s a volume switch from zero to 100. I love having a laugh, but if you mess me around, you’ll be the first person to know about it,” she says when she does sit down to her margarita, a drink she was introduced to in Mauritius by Gary Rhodes (“We went to dinner, we started on margaritas and I nearly died from margaritas”).

Galetti is running the restaurant with her husband, David, a French sommelier. Is this wise, given that many couples would be filing for divorce after trying to cook beans on toast together. “It’s a relationship that has developed with me saying, ‘Do you like this idea?’, him saying, ‘Yes,’ and me saying, ‘Good.’” They met at Le Gavroche and managed to keep their romance secret for three months, until Chef Michel caught them on the CCTV having a cigarette and a cuddle.

“It’s not happening in my kitchen. There are no babies allowed, no maternity leave!” This, to be clear, is Galetti “having a laugh” — and she is funny. When it comes, her smile could melt a trainee pot washer’s heart. Employment rights, though, are not the safest subject for comedy. Last year, Roux was forced to admit he had been paying some of his staff less than the minimum wage. Scary Galetti returns. “Nothing to talk about there.” Her employees will get a “fair salary” and share all of Mere’s 12.5% service charge. Her chefs will work four days a week — “Unheard of when I started. There are such amazing restaurants everywhere, chefs can be picky. I have to offer something that makes them want to work for me.”

Her first customer at Mere will, of course, be Chef Michel, with Le Gavroche’s long-serving general manager, Silvano Giraldin, and their wives. That will be a special day, right? “Bloody hell, yeah. They’re like family. It’s like a housewarming, and they are the first people I want in this house.”

Family is a recurring motif for Galetti. Her own mother “went without so much so that we could eat, have clothing”. Between four and eight, Galetti lived with two aunts, while her mother and father worked to send money home from New Zealand.

It’s Galetti’s immediate family that has thrown up the most pressing staffing issue — the nanny lined up for her daughter, Anais, has bailed. If you’re interested, be prepared for unsociable hours: Galetti plans to work pretty much full-time for the first year. A working knowledge of fine wines would also come in handy. At 10, Anais can already tell a chardonnay from a sauvignon blanc, helped blend the restaurant’s house champagne and once ordered the caviar in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. “I’m making her undateable, so whatever restaurant he takes her to, she’ll be impossible to please and just stay home for ever.” Expect Galetti’s latest baby to be just as precocious.

MONICA LIKES

  • Margaritas
  • Her family
  • Michel Roux Jr

MONICA HATES

  • Losing chefs
  • Work romance
  • Her daughter’s future boyfriends