Member Spotlight: Roberto Galetti
Member Spotlight: Roberto Galetti
When we first met Roberto Galetti at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove, he looks every inch a yachtsman—white pants, loafers and a jacket casually thrown over his dark blue shirt. One would think that when the chef, entrepreneur and restaurateur, to name a few, is not at his one-Michellin-starred restaurant Garibaldi, he is probably sailing the high seas in his yacht. Quite the contrary — Galetti has a mortal fear of water. He bought a yacht so he could get over that fear. “I don’t like to live with the idea of being scared of something in my life, I like to face my fears,” he explains the do-or-die approach that has been his guiding force through life.
Galetti started his career at the young age of 14, working in kitchens in his hometown Brescia, Italy, to support his family’s finances. But he admits to having had a nagging urge to spread his wings and gain experiences beyond the confines of Italy since young. At 18, he moved out of home to work at Hyde Park Hotel in London and thereafter its sister establishment in Rome. A stint at Salzburg, Austria, followed, where he met his mentor, world-renowned chef Giacomo Gallina, who was then headlining Bice restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Under Gallina’s guidance, Galetti soon became the chef of the Buenos Aires outlet. At 23, Galetti was leading a team of about 40 people and running a kitchen that served 300 customers for lunch and 500 for dinner every day. His regular customers were Diego Maradona, and The Rolling Stones and Madonna among other touring celebrities. But it would take more than their acknowledgement to contain his restless spirit—Galetti wanted to hone his skills further and train under another chef. So began his Asian sojourn, initiated by Gallina—in Tokyo first and then, Bice Singapore.
“I don’t like to live with the idea of being scared of something in my life, I like to face my fears.”
“I realised that Asia suited me well. When I arrived in Singapore, I liked it instantly—it’s small but there’s lots to do. But I never imagined it would be my last stop,” he laughs. The place would invariably also become home to his dream restaurant Garibaldi, for which he partnered with like-minded Italian expatriates in Singapore. Garibaldi opened on 21 March 2003—to coincide with the first day of spring. “I will never forget that date,” Galetti exclaims. Fair enough, since it was to be his legacy. But there was another reason. The day before the opening, they found themselves with a restaurant, but with no chairs—their furniture shipment from Italy was delayed. They found themselves making a few frantic calls to their friends—other restaurant owners—to borrow chairs. “Luckily the 21st was a Sunday, so some of the restaurants were closed and we managed to fill up our restaurant,” he says. Not just with chairs, as it turned out.
Garibaldi opened to a full house—and was able to open the next day “with our own chairs”, laughs Galetti. A memorable start indeed—and counting. By his early 40s, Galetti had almost 21 restaurants around the world to his name, either as direct owner or a franchiser. But all work and no rest was telling on him, so in 2011, he got out of the group, keeping full ownership of just Garibaldi. “I was known as the chef of Garibaldi—my name was intrinsically connected with the restaurant. It was very important for me to stay there,” he says.
Galetti’s Top Three
My style is simplicity. One time, chefs Don Alfonso and Tetsuya Wakuda came to Garibaldi—I was not there and they didn’t know me. They left a note, which gives me goosebumps even today: ‘we ordered spaghetti pomodoro. If you are able to make such a simple dish so delicious, we knew we didn’t need to try anything else’.
Not any people know this. I am mad about Fengshui. If you go around my restaurant, you will see many water elements, koi fish and others.
I always wanted to create a restaurant that will be around forever. But I also know I have to pass the baton. I cannot give up my business because it is my baby, but I think I have found the right successor to continue what I have started.
Galetti knew he belonged in the kitchen from a very young age—think a young six-year-old whipping up a breakfast of steak and eggs for his family, so his mother could sleep a little longer before going to work. He showed the same dedication and determination as a teenager, waking up before sunrise to take the train — he rode his bicycle to the train station — to Caterina De Medici, the culinary institute that was 30km from his hometown. This was Galetti’s routine every day for five years. It is obvious that Galetti has not led a conventional childhood by any standards. But when it comes to his food, he remains a purist. “It is very important to me that the identity of my restaurant remains truly Italian,” explains Galetti. “I will not allow any ingredients in my kitchen that are not part of the culinary traditions of Italy.” Equally important is nurturing the next generation of chefs—to give back what he has been lucky to have in his own life. He is happy and proud that many chefs he has mentored, including Michelin starred Denis Lucchi, LG Han and Willin Low, have struck out on their own and evolved their own signature style.
At home, however, Galetti shares the kitchen with his Malaysian Chinese wife—she takes charge of Asian, while Galetti handles the Western dishes. But who decides the menu? His five-year-old daughter. The word “unwind” does not exist in Galetti’s vocabulary. “But, one day, I hope to be winding down and spending time on my yacht,” he says. But not before accomplishing a few more things, he rushes to add.