I grew up in samoa and looking back i don’t think i realized how wonderful life was back then. Chickens used to run wild on the family plantation and we would collect their eggs. We collected guavas, pineapples, papayas. It was such a normal thing to do.
Every Sunday, we had an “umu” – a large fire pit with volcanic rocks. When the fire goes out, the rocks are removed and put with the meat or palusami [wrapped bundles of taro leaves with a coconut and onion filling]. Then everything is covered with the rocks and covered with banana leaves and left to cook for an hour. The whole family got involved, everyone had a role.
We had to move to New Zealand when I was eight for a better life. There is a large Samoan community in New Zealand, so much of that culture survives, but tropical fruits were no longer being picked. Instead, it was apples and sweet corn. But my dad liked to grow his own fruits and vegetables, he still does.
When I walked into the kitchen for the first time, I knew that I would do that forever. I was studying my hospitality diploma and fell in love with him. It was like being a wizard. I still remember the first time I made a muffin. For me it was the most amazing thing.
I was 21 when I came to London and I sent my CV to so many restaurants. Michel [Roux Jr] was the first to reply. While training, the Roux family was [only in] the books you saw. I didn’t think it was possible to meet them. Today Michel is like an older brother.
The best training I could have had was coming to a Roux kitchen. To understand how to cook meat, without sticking a probe into it, just by touching it, it takes time to be able to cook like this. These days, you can set a timer and put it in a water bath. Sauces from scratch, stocks from scratch, much of it is bought these days. Fillet and butcher skills, you’d be surprised how many chefs don’t have them.
The switch to television was only supposed to be a 15 minute period. I’ve been asked to do various celebrity things, which I refuse. Because I don’t think it’s relevant to jump in and do a little bit of everything. It’s different because my goal was to be a chef, not to be on television. When your goal is to be on television, take every opportunity to be on television.
This is my thirteenth year of MasterChef: the professionals. I love when chefs start to gain confidence and it gets really exciting. Like santosh [Shah from the 2020 series], bringing Nepalese cuisine and so many crazy ingredients that I have never tried before. Or Adam Handling, who passed by for the first time and even then we could see how talented he was.
Many people have said: you don’t really need to run a restaurantyou could do everything else. But I can’t imagine not having my own kitchen or being part of a serious kitchen. It’s a natural high – if I ever lose that, I’ll just stop.
I use Marmite a lot at the restaurant, that’s Kiwi Marmite, not British Marmite. We make a Marmite salt that we use for popcorn, I make Marmite in a pasta dish with mushrooms and chicken. You are not going to put cups, it is used more as a condiment. But I still love it on toast.
My dogs love bananas as a treat. You can never have a banana alone in this house! Honestly, no matter how quiet you try to peel it, they come running and stare at you until you share your banana. Yes, it is annoying.
My favorite things
French fries with salt and vinegar. I’ve loved them since I was a kid and right now I’m enjoying those lentil ones.
Bubbles. Champagne. Anything from Bollinger to Krug. We drink quite well at home. But with that said, I have now restricted it to weekends. The confinement was a dark time. Was someone else hiding their recycle bin from the neighbors?
My favorite place to eat, which I am late for a visit, would be Sabor. All that you snow [Barragán-Mohacho] Cooks is amazing, from the octopus they make to the big fish.
Dish to make
Homemade pizza. If I could, I would eat pizza every day. Of course, you reach a certain age and you can’t do that anymore. But I love making the dough from scratch, and everyone can choose their own fillings and they cook in three minutes.
At Home: My Favorite Recipes for Family and Friends by Monica Galetti is posted by Aster (£ 20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, purchase a copy at guardianboookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism