Monday, 2 April 2012

Rachel Khoo: Cooking up a storm in her little Paris kitchen

A few weeks ago I switched on the TV and happened upon a beautifully shot cookery show called "The little Paris Kitchen" I was instantly hooked.
 The very cool Rachel Khoo (channelling some serious Amelie chic) pottered around the tiny kitchen in her charming flat cooking a whole range of delicious dishes from old traditional to modern cuisine with simple instructions and using only a handful of ingredients.
Rachel Khoo in her little Paris kitchen
Photo David Loftus
Intrigued I decided to find out more about this stylish cook and the more I read about her the more I liked the cut of her jib. 
Her bio is very inspiring. An ordinary girl from Croydon determined to get to grips with French cooking Rachel moved to Paris, not speaking a word of French, and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, the world-famous cookery school. Five years later, she still lives and works in Paris, cooking up a selection of classic French dishes from all over the country,giving them a fresh makeover with her no nonsense approach. From a Croque Madame muffin and the classic Boeuf bourguignon, to a deliciously fragrant Provencal lavender and lemon roast chicken she somehow makes French food accessible.
I was lucky enough  to speak with Rachel last week and she was as down to earth and charming as you would imagine. Answering all my questions and even giving me a book to giveaway.
From Croydon to Paris
Photo David Loftus

 Betty: You graduated with a BA in fine arts and worked as a fashion PR before becoming a chef. What led you to a career in food?
Rachel: While studying at Central St Martins I assisted on food shoots. A lot of my projects at Art college were food related for instance I made an architects model of a shop in gingerbread. So I had always been interested in food. However not in the classic sense. I never set out to be a "chef". I was more interested in using food as a medium. The fashion PR thing was just a bit of a detour (graduated from college needed a paid job). Moving to Paris was me trying to get back into the food scene.

Cooking up a storm-Red lipsticked lovely Rachel
Photo David Loftus
Betty: Does your arts and fashion background inform your food at all?
Rachel: My background certainly makes my approach to food slightly different.When I was writing the book I wanted to simplify some of the recipes, so I started to illustrate them with the idea if people could cook using my illustration than the recipe was simple enough. Some of the illustrations ended up in the book.

Betty: I read that when you moved to Paris you spoke no French and didn’t know anybody at all. That must have been very daunting, what was it about the city that was so alluring?
Rachel: P√Ętisserie but also because I wanted an adventure. The idea of discovering another culture and language was very exciting.
Riding through Paris
Photo David Loftus
 Betty: I love the fact that you run a tiny little restaurant out of your flat in Paris. What made you decide to do this and doesn’t it drive you mad having strangers tramping through your space all the time?
Rachel: The reason why I opened up an "underground" (i.e. unofficial) restaurant was for me to test my recipes for my cookbook. I had 120 recipes to write and test and there was no way I was going to eat all the food myself and also I hate wasting food too. I had done pop up restaurants around the world (Buenos Aires, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Berlin) but on a bigger scale. I thought I can only fit two people, so let's just do a table for two.
It was sometimes a little annoying having strangers over as I always had to make sure my place was super clean. I was lucky that my guests (I had about 200 people over the year) were all very lovely and didn't start going through my underwear draw.
Photo David Loftus

Betty: What’s your favourite food to cook when you have friends over?
Rachel: Dishes I can throw in the oven or in a pot which don't need a lot of attending to, so I can socialise with my friends.
Betty: As a young woman working in what can be perceived as a fairly masculine industry in Paris (arguably the culinary centre of the world) how do you hold your own?
Rachel: Ignore the comments and focus on being creative.

French food made simple
Photo David Loftus
Betty: You were already a successful food writer before filming this series. Did you have any reservations about suddenly being in people’s living rooms?
Rachel: Yes, TV is a brutal world especially if you're a woman. Not only is your work being judged but also your clothes, hair and make up (which I did all myself). The Little Paris Kitchen TV show was my first experience of being in front of the camera. I didn't get any training. I was just put in front of the camera and told to cook. What you see on camera is me, so it's hard not taking criticism personal.
Putting her Cordon Bleu skills to work
Photo David Loftus

Betty: You have achieved a huge amount in such a short space of time what drives you?
Rachel: When I'm inspired by a project then I give 150%. I live and breathe it. The project consumes me. I enjoy the process of creating whether book, TV or events. If I don't have inspiration than it's very hard for me to add my creative touch. There are so many amazing projects happening in music, art, fashion, social, food.... It's really inspiring to see other people working hard to create exciting new products. I don't want to put out something which is "mediocre" or "nice" (nice was an insult used by my tutors at Central St Martins). I want to be able to look back in a couple of years and still be proud of what I'm done.

Betty: You are a published food writer, have your own TV show and already work as a consultant to a fabulous range of clients what’s next?
Rachel: A holiday, I hope. The book, "restaurant" and TV series have been one  and a half years of really intense work.

Betty: Two episodes in and I already want your entire wardrobe. Tell us about your style influences. Was it daunting deciding what to wear for your show?
Rachel: I like to mix high street with second hand/vintage. Partly due to budget but partly because I love a bargain. I'm always rummaging in the 2€ bin. I love colours and patterns (you've probably noticed by now that I have a polka dot obsession). I find that vintage always have more exciting designs but I'm not talking "designer" vintage, it's more the old c&a designs or homemade dresses I pick up.
In terms of what influences me. I don't think I'm particularly influenced by a certain era. Clothes for me have to make me feel good, so it doesn't matter whether it's 50s, 80s or today. For the TV show I just picked clothes that made me feel comfortable (for instance I don't like my arms, hence me wearing a knotted cardigan) in my own skin. The TV production company gave me a few tips. For instance small busy patterns and stripes create a funny effect on the camera but otherwise I wore whatever I fancied.

Shopping for lovely fresh ingredients
Photo David Loftus

Betty: I’m a total red lipstick addict and see that you are too. Any preferred brands (I love Beseme which is a French brand) 
Rachel: I used to wear Russian red by Mac but I switched to Cherry Lush by Tom Ford which is a semi matte and has a slight pink tone. I've suddenly also got a thing for Nars bright pink, Schiap too. Nothing beats a bit of lippy to glam up cooking.

 So there you have it the wonderful Rachel Khoo. Beautiful, talented and effortlessly stylish. I have a tiny crush and am off to buy some Tom Ford Lipstick.
Rachel's show "The little Paris kitchen" is on BBC2 on Mondays.Her beautiful book of the same name is available from Penguin/ Michael Joseph  can be purchased  here 
The book to accompany the series

Rachel has very kindly given me her latest book to giveaway to one lucky follower. 
To enter:
  • Join this blog if you haven't already
  • Spread the good word about this giveaway on Twitter, FB, your blog, or whatever choice of social media you prefer
  • Leave a comment on today's post.

The winner will be chosen via random number generator on Monday the 9th April 2012
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