With a name like that it sounds like you were born to be a chef! But how did you go from being a tomboy to a top chef and co-presenter of TV’s Masterchef: The Professionals?
I was born in Western Samoa and was in the middle of four brothers and a younger sister. Primary school was very scary. The island teachers were very strict and you would get the ruler or a smack if you were late. On the other hand I had a great time
running around the school courtyard and trying to avoid trouble.
At the end of each school day we
would queue up to buy milk biscuits, which I loved, for about 10 cents. I would buy an extra one for my little sister as a treat. I loved reading – I still do – and was good at running. When I was eight we moved to New Zealand because my parents wanted better jobs. My mum,
Mere, was a Nurse in a care home and my dad, Eric, after a period at night school, became Head Mechanic for the New Zealand Police.
We lived in Auckland then
moved to Wellington, which meant that by 10 I had been to three schools. That was disruptive - it’s always hard to be the new kid at school, with everyone looking at
you, and having to make new friends. But at that age it is easy to make new friends, and I had a great time at school.
At 13, under the New Zealand
system, I went to secondary school. I was good at Geography, the arts, I loved English, and studied German - I have always regretted not following through with that. I was also in the basketball team.
I was a real tomboy – after all
I had four brothers and loads of male cousins – and I really got into skateboarding. At 15 I left skateboarding behind and my dad was pleased because it meant I stopped coming home with cuts and grazes.
At 18 I started college and, as
I always wanted to travel, I took a degree in Tourism and Hospitality. As part of that course I spent six weeks in the college
kitchen, effectively running a restaurant.
The first day I walked in, the chef was piping
chocolate icing decorations and I thought ‘I want to do that’. I quickly realised that it was another way of
being artistic - truly showing off and in the process making other people happy. It was like being a
magician, knowing stuff that other people didn’t.
I was hooked.
I picked up quite a few
accolades in New Zealand and when I was 21, I came to the UK for a holiday and fell in love with the London dining scene. I wanted to be part of that scene. I went back to New Zealand for two or three years and learnt my craft, saved up a lot of money before returning to the UK and I’m still here!
I worked for a few months in
Holland, did a stint in restaurants in the Channel Islands, and toured
through France. While I was travelling I sent off about seven CVs to my favourite London restaurants, and got a job at Le Gavroche. When I was growing
up, the Roux brothers - Michel’s father and uncle, Albert and Michel senior - were my idols. I regarded them as royalty. I became sous-chef at one of the world’s best
restaurants. I was doing something I loved and TV work followed.
Looking back, I think my top role model was my mum. She had to sacrifice some of her dreams to
bring us up and put bread on the table. I never forgot
Hover to reveal!
MY ADVICE TO YOU IS...
Enjoy your teens. Life is
not set or planned out at 14 or even 16.
I found my career when I first walked into that kitchen at 18 or 19.
For some people it might take longer, but don’t panic.
Be responsible and stay safe when you’re going out.
Don’t always follow peer pressure. Be true to yourself
and do something you love. The rest will follow.