MasterChef’s Monica Galetti looks back: ‘I was feisty, impatient and unafraid’


Born in Samoa in 1975, Monica Galetti is a chef, MasterChef judge and Amazing Hotels presenter. She developed a passion for food on her family’s plantation on the island of Upolu, before moving to New Zealand, where she established her name in the world of fine dining. In 1999, Galetti moved to London to work for Michel Roux Jr at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Gavroche, where she met her friend, Jérôme Merdrignac, who runs the London-based boutique dog walking business, Active Barks. Galetti is working with The Singleton whisky brand on its new Dream Gathering campaign.


Oh my gosh. I have a vivid memory of this photo being taken: we were having a dinner party with a group of friends at our flat. Shortly before, Jérôme and I were fighting over the bathroom mirror. He was hogging it! I was living with five sommeliers, including Jérôme, so there was a lot of wine and I was probably on cooking duties. I was 27; feisty, impatient and unafraid.

Jérôme and I met at Le Gavroche. My initial thoughts were that he was really hot. When he told me he was gay, I thought: “Oh great! Typical!” But we became close friends. Plus, his best friend turned out to be my future husband [sommelier David Galetti]. The rest is history.

Over the years, we worked, lived and partied together. It was a lot of fun, but we took our jobs seriously and worked hard too. It was a busy time – a lot of late nights. We were a hospitality household, so there was always someone coming home between midnight and three in the morning. On the weekends, Jérôme probably didn’t even make it home at all. I loved that house. It was a happy place.

Finding a support network was incredibly important to me. I moved to London alone at 23 from New Zealand. I was raised in the Pacific islands, and by comparison the city had an amazing energy and was very cosmopolitan and diverse. So were the people – although, admittedly, most of my friends were French sommeliers.

Back then, I’d describe myself as a massive risk-taker. I was impulsive and never turned down a dare. But security and a chosen family meant a lot to me too. I’ve been very fortunate that Jérôme has been part of that, and 20 years later nothing has changed. Together we’ve weathered every storm – the good and the bad. He was there at my wedding. He’s been a brilliant “guncle” – gay uncle – to my daughter. He is always there quietly, ready with a hug, ready to listen during all the tough times I’ve faced, whether that be losing someone in my family or work stress.

He was there during my transition from the kitchen to the TV, too. I found that whole experience challenging and awkward – mainly the shift from being a professional chef into a personality, and the fact that people suddenly had an opinion of my character rather than my work [Galetti was dubbed “nasty Monica” by viewers of MasterChef]. Throughout that time, Jérôme was steadfast – he was so good at keeping me grounded, saying: “No, you are a good person, what you’re doing is right.” Or: “Babe, you need to check in with one of your friends at the dentist.” The friends that aren’t afraid to bring up the whiteness of your teeth are the ones you need to hold on to.

Maintaining friendships is something you have to work hard at. No matter how busy I am, we always make an effort to see each other at least once a year. If time starts to go by, a voice in my head says: you need to check in with Jérôme. I need to be booked in around three to four months in advance because of my schedule, but I have found that if I go for long stretches without him and the rest of our group, I actually feel sick. Luckily, we have a group WhatsApp chat to turn to when we can’t see each other – on it my husband and I are called Donica, while Jérôme and his partner, Shaun, are Sharome.

I’m not as feisty as I once was. I’m more controlled emotionally. I take time to think. My motto is: quick to listen, slow to talk and slow to anger. The impulsiveness has lessened, too. Everything is different when you’re a mother. Everything becomes a decision. You need to just wait a minute and think about it, as opposed to jumping straight in. But Jérôme is the same. He has a sweet tooth, so whatever happens, I need to make sure there’s a dessert. A pavlova. Or a creme brulee. I like to spoil him and make sure I am enjoying every moment and opportunity I get with him. When we are together, everything clicks back to where we left off. David and Jérôme don’t stop talking, and when we’re not talking, we’re focused on eating good food, drinking good wine and having lots of laughter. And dogs. Lots of dogs.

When I was young and chasing success as a chef, everything else came second. Especially in hospitality, with its unsociable hours, it is easy to lose a lot on the way up, whether it be family time, friendship or partners. I feel very fortunate that God threw Jérôme into my corner and said: “Right, this is who you’ve got. Keep him close. As close as possible.”


Monica and I lived together in a five-bedroom house on Baker Street in central London. Our place was always busy, with lots of friends coming in and out. This would have been at some kind of party. We had lots of parties.

I’ve been working in the dog business for eight years, but before that I was in restaurants. David and I were best friends, and we came from Paris together in 2001. The first time I met Monica, she was working in the kitchen at Le Gavroche and I was a sommelier. We got on straight away, and would often go out clubbing in Soho and Farringdon. I was there the night she first kissed David. I knew it was going to happen! Life with Monica was always very fun, but over time our friendship grew closer and closer.

Related: Martin and Roman Kemp look back: ‘I didn’t want a parent v kid relationship. I wanted us to be equal’

What first drew me to Monica? I liked her passion for her job and for food. She was a passionate person in general, as well as being friendly and so approachable. Over the decades she has supported me a lot emotionally. As a gay person, life has sometimes been challenging, but I can always talk to Monica about any troubles I am having, from first boyfriends to first breakups.

Monica is very busy, much busier than me, so we have to plan way in advance and fit it into her schedule. When we are together it is always so easy. She shows her love through listening, as well as food, and we will often sit in her garden and have barbecues with lovely big salads. I try to do the same for her. She lost her dog in September which was very upsetting. I sent flowers.

As she is a public figure, she gets a lot of attention if we go out. It’s strange to see her on TV, but I know who she really is, and I do get protective of her as she is very sensitive despite having to be strong on screen.

Whatever happens, we can always count on each other. While I miss my family back in Brittany I have made a new one in London, and Monica is at the heart of it.