Masterchef judge encourages next generation to dream big
Allowing young people to follow their dreams is the greatest gift anyone can give according to Masterchef: The Professionals star Monica Galetti (pictured).
The Samoan-born New Zealander found fame as a judge on the BBC cooking show in 2009.
At the same time, she is a business owner, running Mere Restaurant in London, with her husband David.
Monica’s story of having very little growing up, the hardship her family faced, and developing an intense desire to succeed at cooking inspired and resonated with many attendees at the Pacific Aotearoa Vision Summit, at Auckland’s Eden Park.
“At the age of eight, mum brought me from Samoa to Auckland to be with my siblings – New Zealand was a cold country, where we had to learn English, and visit to the dentist for the first time as our teeth were so bad,” Monica says.
“We were not wealthy, we never saw mum as she was working so much, and we were pretty much raised by dad, who sang us to sleep at first as we were afraid and did not understand why we were in New Zealand.”
Monica and her family then moved to Wellington, where her family became “disconnected”.
“We moved from house to house, and often had no lunch – I knew what was like to have holes in my shoes, and watch mum in tears because there were no presents under the tree at Christmas.”
While there was not much in the way of material possessions, there was an abundance of love and support in Monica’s family, she says.
“I have so much love for mum and dad, and the support from them and my extended family has been huge.”
Monica was taught Fa’asamoa by her parents, and on Sundays she was not allowed to speak English.
She spent much of her childhood in the Church, and it was this sense of community and belonging, identity and language she craved when she first moved to the United Kingdom, and still craves nearly 20 years on, she says.
Always one for a challenge, Monica had moved to the United Kingdom to better herself and learn more as a Chef.
Although she had already been cooking for six years, when she landed a job at Michelin star restaurant Le Gavroche she started from scratch in a gruelling industry.
The long hours, and working in a “man’s world” taught Monica resilience and it spurred her on to do more, and aim higher.
“It truly hardened me,” she says.
Heartbreak struck Monica in 2000, when her partner died in New Zealand – she returned home briefly before packing up for good to go back to the UK and cooking, as it was what kept her going.
In the years following, she stamped her mark in the food world, and secured her spot on Masterchef after appearing as a guest.
In 2004, she married her love David Galetti, and the couple had a child together. Her career was going great.
However, in 2013, the bubble burst when her mum died of cancer, leaving Monica with a sense of failure.
“I had left New Zealand to follow my dreams, like my mum had encouraged me to do.
“Every time she drove me to the airport after visiting the family, she would say ‘go’ but her eyes pleaded me to stay.
“My dream had been to open a restaurant, somewhere, but mum never got to see it – her death was the kick up the butt to open my own restaurant.”
Monica has since opened Mere Restaurant – named after her mother, so what made her special, her culture and traditions will never be forgotten.
While in New Zealand for the Summit, Monica says she has seen Pacific people all want the same thing, for the next generation to prosper, flourish and achieve their dreams.
“So, let them dream,” she says.
“We need to support them and we need to be present.”
Being Pacific keeps Monica “real” and grounded in a world so separate to the one she knew growing up.
“The world I work in is tough and competitive, but when anyone asks me where I am from, I am proud to say I am Samoan; I am Pacific.”
Visit www.pacificaotearoa.org.nz for more information about the Summit.