How did you end up running a Michel Roux restaurant?
It was fate. I sent my CV to so many restaurants back in 1999 when I arrived here from New Zealand aged 23 – Raymond Blanc, Pierre Koffmann, everywhere – and Michel [Roux Jr] was the first to reply. I had no idea what I was getting into.
So how did you get the job on MasterChef: the Professionals?
Michel put me forward for it – I was his sous chef at Le Gavroche. I was up against four or five others who were all ex-head chefs, so there was some serious competition. I told him I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. He said, “Be yourself. I have complete faith in you.” That’s what I did – and felt quite sick when I learnt the job was mine.
You’re very strict with the contestants. Is Michel Roux Jr just as strict with you at work?
Very much so. It’s that serious Michel you see when he’s judging the classics. Imagine those eyes looking over your shoulder. Even now I’ve got to make sure I don’t miss anything because he’ll catch it. He’s very quick.
Women contestants are still in a minority on the programme. Do you feel protective?
Yes, if a woman does well, I’m really happy; but if they mess up I’ll be just as hard as if they were a boy. I can’t take sides. Not unless she were my sister. She’d win.
What television programmes did you enjoy as a child?
I was born in Samoa but grew up in Wellington, so I was weaned on Neighbours, but also great programmes like M*A*S*H and Diff’rent Strokes. I even taught my daughter to say “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” She never got it!
Which cookery shows were popular in New Zealand?
Everyone loved Keith Floyd with his glass of wine, spitting all over the place. I used to think: wow, this guy is honestly having so much fun, he gets to drink wherever he goes!
What programmes have you been watching lately?
I recently discovered Downton Abbey. But the first episode I saw, this woman got raped. I’d just put my daughter to bed and I was having a glass of wine with my husband and it came up. And I said, “Why is the guy narrating the story? Is it for blind people?” Because he narrates…
Someone talks: “And now Anna is going to the gallery… meanwhile, James is polishing boots.” So odd!
Maybe you had the audiovisual guide on by accident…
Ah. Anyway, I was traumatised when the woman got raped and I couldn’t sleep after that.
So that was your first and last episode?
No, I went back to it – the costumes are fabulous.
Does your husband [David Galetti, head sommelier at Le Gavroche] share your TV tastes?
My husband falls asleep every time his backside touches the sofa!
How about radio – what do you like listening to?
On car journeys we listen to Magic FM. I like the fact that they’re not constantly repeating the number one until you hate it. My daughter and her friends sing along to the jingles.
Any other family favourites?
Cinderella III. Did you know there was a third Cinderella? One Sunday we saw that and both Brother Bear films. After that we had to go for a drive. I’d had enough!
What makes you reach for the “off ” switch?
Watching myself. I hate my smile.
Strictly or The X Factor? The X Factor
QI or Have I Got News For You? Have I Got News For You?
Nigel Slater or Nigella? Nigella
Newsnight or Question Time? Newsnight
Rugby or football? Rugby
MasterChef: the Professionals is in its final week: Mon–Thu 8.30pm BBC2