Mere: Monica Galetti's new family-inspired restaurant
The top chef and MasterChef: The Professionals judge on staying true to herself and the inspirations behind her first restaurant in London
Things have been amazing since we opened Mere. Don't get me wrong, it's the toughest thing my husband David and I have ever done but it's also hugely rewarding. I am no longer just a chef, I'm also a mother, and having to juggle that with the business can be really difficult at times. You have to be very driven to want to succeed. I don't see why you wouldn't want to commit to something 110 per cent.
It's been great having David by my side throughout the whole process. We see each other everyday but it's almost always work related. After lunch service I go home to spend some time with our daughter Anais before rushing back for evening service. I will try and make it home for 1am. David will stay and close but I usually wait up for him so we can spend maybe half an hour together before bed. Before you know it, it's morning and back to work again.
It's tough but I believe having strong relationships keep you grounded and give you a sounding board that's honest. I come from a family of strong women. My mother was very tough and I have an aunt who was a colonel in the American army. When you have people around you like that they're the ones that will tell you if you're not being true to yourself or if you're being a drama queen.
The flavours I'm using in the dishes are the main link to my roots. I learnt how to cook in a French dining kitchen, so the techniques I use are predominantly French but the actual dishes you'll find on the menu are my interpretations of things I've eaten in Samoa, New Zealand or someplace else I've travelled. The menu is made up of food I like to eat and cook. Some of my favourites include the pork boil up, the mushroom and marmite tortellini and, of course, the coconut and banana cream pie: all the flavours of New Zealand. Oh, and the squab, I love squab. It's one of my favourite birds.
Food is such a massive part of Samoan culture so mealtimes mean family time. When I was growing up, we would all sit around together to eat and talk to one another. It's something I've carried with me; mealtimes at home are the same. We wanted to create the same atmosphere at Mere. Hopefully people will come in, put their phones away and enjoy the moment.
Personal touches are very important to us. The dishes the chocolates are served in at Mere are polished coconut shells, which were brought over by various family and friends from Samoa, and the champagne bucket behind the bar is actually a Samoan kava bowl that was in our house. David and I are passionate about art. One of my favourite artists, Warren Kerley created a giant gold resin piece for us, which is in the bar. It represents my love of champagne and even has a red stamp on the front, which is the same print as the tattoo on my wrist.
My cousin Solomon Daniel gifted us two pieces of art for the restaurant. One is representative of David, Anais and I and the other represents my parents and myself. I have a very artistic family who are all very good at drawing. I used to be pretty good at drawing too but I think when I became a chef that sort of died out. The creativity is just coming out in a different way. I still like to sketch when I'm drawing plans for food.
Having Solomon's work here is also a connection to my roots. None of my family could make it to the restaurant opening and I was initially really upset about that. But Solomon was like, 'Cuz, look around. We're all there in the artwork that I've sent you. We're all here'.
Sometimes when I come to the restaurant I can just ground myself in that. You can get lost in what you do, television will come and go, fame comes and goes but who you are, your roots, your culture, that will never go.
MONICA GALETTI opened her first restaurant, Mere, with her sommelier husband David Galetti in March after ten years in the kitchen at Le Gavroche. She has been a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals for eight years and has released a cookbook, Monica Galetti The Skills (£20, Quadrille), out now; mere-restaurant.com