She seduced us with Paris’ smallest kitchen and now Rachel Khoo is back with a new book – but there’s not a French recipe in sight
Rachel Khoo has returned. Her food is uncomplicated, delicious and her enthusiastic squeals (plus her ability to carry off a tea dress) are infectious.
The cookery writer, TV chef and author is probably best known for The Little Paris Kitchen, which hit screens in 2012. It was in her tiny 226 sq ft apartment, where there was barely enough room for two gas rings and her fold-out bed, that Rachel whipped up classic French dishes. You know, the kind of food you really want to eat.
This was hope for us all – as well as adding to a romanticised idea of an English girl living the Parisian dream, Rachel Khoo made it look very easy to cook all those complicated French classics.
Now, Khoo is back with a new book and there’s not a French recipe in sight.
We caught up with her to set the record straight: she’s not just that French girl off the telly. Well, she’s not even French for a start …
Your new book is a departure from French cooking, why is that?
“I was always getting stopped on the street with people asking me if I was "the French woman off the telly". I’m not French. I grew up in the UK with a mixed heritage of food. I really wanted to show people that I’m not just about French food.”
What did you eat growing up and was that an influence?
“My mum is Austrian and my dad Malaysian. When I was younger, one night we’d have a curry, then a schnitzel, then a Sunday roast and then we’d have all the leftovers mixed together.
“It’s definitely influenced the way I approach food now. I’m a bit like a magpie, I pick and choose and bung it all in. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else.
“When I was growing up in the 80s, my mum would try to find unusual ingredients. She had to be resourceful with ingredients from supermarkets – she’d get her olive oil from the pharmacy! It teaches you to be creative.”
Why did you move to Paris?
“I was in my 20s, working in fashion PR and it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I assisted on some food shoots and really liked that work. I wanted to get back into food, spoke to some people and they said some sort of course or experience in a restaurant would really help.
“I love patisserie so I looked into Paris, although I didn’t speak French. I thought that if I didn’t do it then I would spend the rest of my life in London – although I love London.
“It was very hard because I didn’t know anyone but I learned so much.”
Have you got a kitchen with four gas rings now?
“I do indeed! I had to move back to London for a TV show. I now have a real bed (she was sleeping on a pull-out bed in her flat in Paris), four rings and a proper oven.
“I have to test recipes constantly. I did what I had to do but at some point, you need proper working equipment.”
What’s the main fail people make with dinner parties?
"Over-complicating things. You need to keep things simple. You don’t need to be complicated. Buy the best ingredients you can afford and ones that are in season. For example, take a tomato in August, you slice it up, add olive oil, some mozzarella and basil and you have a starter. Out of season, you have to punch it with flavour."
Which three ingredients could you not cook without?
“I’m the dairy queen. I love butter. I love cheese. I love crème fraîche and eggs. I have been testing a gluten-free, dairy-free, everything-free cake, which is OK but I know what the real deal is. Give me some butter!
“The French are picky when it comes to sweets, but they do like to have a treat. There’s nothing wrong with going the whole hog sometimes. Well, in moderation.”
Are you one for kitchen gadgets?
“Yes, I have a spiralizer. I got into that last year. I made a courgetti dish for my TV show and people couldn’t believe it wasn’t pasta. I’m more a mandolin girl though or a speed peeler. That’s my thing.”
Where do you go for the best patisserie in the UK?
"I bake it myself."
And what about Paris?
“La Patisserie des Reves, definitely. They opened a branch in London but I was a bit disappointed. That might be because I’m comparing it with the French one, which I love.”
You’ve spoken before about the lack of female foodies on TV, why do you think that is?
“You need to ask the commissioners that. They control everything. It’s a real shame. Of course there’s Nigella, Mary Berry and Lorraine Pascale but if you count the prime time males on TV it’s almost a 3 to 1 ratio, if not more. It’s a real shame, where are the women?”
You’ve just launched your YouTube channel, what can we expect to see from it?
“It’s very homemade, I’m experimenting. I’m cooking in my kitchen and will be doing things like 'what to do if a crème anglaise goes wrong.' I’m trying to have a bit of fun, make mistakes; it’s like Rachel uncut. It’s YouTube, so you can turn it off if you don’t like it.”
What food trends do you think we’ll see this year?
“Hybrid fruit and veg and a lot of fermented veg, I’m eating a lot of sauerkraut at the moment. Cauliflower is still strong and in your face, you can’t get away from it. I’ve got a fantastic cauliflower cheeseburger in my new cookbook.”
“Mainly recipe developing. I’m busy with my Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook, which I started writing in 2012 so it has been a long process. I’ve also got a one-hour show coming up in March on BBC2 and I'm writing recipes for a show in Australia.”