Many of you may have watched & been inspired by Rachel Khoo’s TV show on BBC2 - The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo, where she showed how to whip up delicious modern French classics in her tiny Parisian flat. She took some time out from her busy schedule to talk to Great British Chefs blogger, Chris Osburn about her cookery background, inspirations & also shares some tips for cooking in a small space.
Blog post & photography of Rachel Khoo by Chris Osburn
Transcribing my notes from a recent phone interview with chef, author and TV personality Rachel Khoo, a few salient points stand out with prominence. One, my handwriting is atrocious. Two, Rachel’s got a lot going on. Three, she’s got a lot of foodie heroes. And, lastly, the 31 year old star of her tiny home kitchen is as enthusiastic as she is pragmatic.
Growing up in Croydon in a mixed Austrian and Chinese-Malaysian household, Rachel was exposed to a lot of what she described as “not regular British food”. She’d have Malay-Chinese food during the week and Austrian meals on the weekends, and mentioned to me her memories of visits to Chinese restaurants where there were “no chicken nugget kids’ meals but grown ups all around me eating chicken feet”.
Rachel reckoned those formative years exposed to a variety of food and different ways to prepare it gave her an early fascination with cooking and the appreciative palate to match. When I asked about specific influences and foodie heroes, she said such a question would be difficult for her to answer … and then without skipping a beat went on to share delicious inspiration after delicious inspiration – from stalwarts of the food industry to cutting edge trend setters du jour.
For Rachel, who did all the illustrations for her latest cookbook, the visual is an especially important side of any culinary experience. Indeed, much of the idea behind her TV show (a concept she came up with on her own before pitching as a collaborative effort with production company and approaching the BBC) stems from her admiration of Donna Hay, an “Australian Martha Stewart but a bit cooler” who kicked off a certain style of photographing and presenting food that was “clean and minimal” and very much to Rachel’s tastes. As for the actual American Martha Stewart, Rachel confessed, having some of her magazines around can be a good way to “pick up great ideas”. Flitting back to the here and now, she quickly then mentioned having the Noma and Fat Duck cookbooks on the shelf of her Paris apartment.
Garnering much admiration from Rachel was the “very pure” Faviken. Ranked as the 34th best restaurant in the world (in San Pellegrino’s yearly publication of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants), this twelve-seater northern Swedish restaurant where, according to theworlds50best.com, diners at Faviken can experience cod served with “the first foraged vegetables of the year” or diced cow’s heart with marrowbone – extracted at the table by chefs armed with a saw. And she was delighted to have an opportunity to beam about the perhaps less extreme but still “amazing” Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang whom Rachel said approaches food “from a different angle”. Closer to home – and keeping with her interest in how food is written about and presented – Rachel expressed much love for Paris restaurant Septime, where head chef, Bertrand Grébaut, studied literature and worked as a graphic designer before embarking upon his career in an upscale kitchen.
So how did this Croydon girl get to hosting her own cookery show from her own little home in Paris? Rachel suggested it was “a bit of a long story”. But an abridged version might go something like the following: She’d studied art at Central St Martins in London, wound up working as an assistant to a food stylist and coming across loads of opportunity but little in the way of actual paying jobs. Finding herself working in fashion PR and marketing, wanting some adventure and frankly becoming “sick of London” Rachel jumped at a chance to train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
And the rest is cookbook and television series history. Come September, Rachel will have been in Paris for seven years. And although she travels “all the time” to promote her recently published “The Little Paris Kitchen” cookbook, she’s still pleased to call Paris home. She’s “quite happy” with how life’s turned out for her. Although she “didn’t move to Paris with the idea of a TV show and cookbook deal” she would “ideally” like to continue what she’s doing now and is “currently negotiating with the BBC for another season”.
In closing, I asked Rachel if she had any cookery tips to share with the Great British Chefs community. Only a “boring” one she said. “When I was in culinary school, the first thing I learned (well, after learning to always say “Oui Chef”) was to keep tidy as you. If you have a small kitchen, like I do, this keeping tidy is essential and you’ll be less likely to get confused when you’re cooking”.
Blog post & photography by Chris Osburn
Do you have a small kitchen? Are there any tips you’d like to share about cooking in a small space? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.