From snow-dusted peaks and spice-laden Christmas markets of Alsace, to bulging larders of Brittany, Rachel Khoo has dug up some hidden gems in her new cookbook/travelogue My Little French Kitchen. She’s left Parisian delicacies far behind for robust fare such as rustic Roast Red Wine Chicken in Bordeaux, a classic Kugelhopf from Alsace, Quick Pickled Sardines from salty Brittany, Buttermilk Lamb with Toasted Buckwheat and Herb Salad from Mont Saint-Michel. The 120 recipes are a road map of her adventures by train, plane, bus, car, bike and even driving a mini-bus at one point.
You may know British-born Rachel from her hit BBC2 TV series The Little Paris Kitchen (she has a cookbook of the same name) in which she de-mystified complexities of French cooking in a tiny apartment where she also ran the world’s smallest restaurant, catering for only two guests at a time. Her red lippy, vintage dresses and relaxed approach also won her legions of fans. A graduate of art and design in London, Rachel worked in fashion before moving to Paris to study at at Le Cordon Bleu and obtained a pastry degree. She put her skills to use at the Paris culinary bookstore and tea salon, La Cocotte, before forging an independent career.
Now she’s a food writer, cook and TV star, with two more series in the works for BBC WorldWide: Rachel Khoo’s London Food Diary (working title) and Rachel Khoo Cosmopolitan Cook.
My Q and A with Rachel
French cooking is often perceived as complex, yet I found with your TV series that much can be accomplished in a tiny kitchen. Is that the type of feedback you’ve had?
Indeed. It’s been amazing to have had such an international (both the book and TV series have gone global) positive feedback. People just seemed to love the fact that I managed to cook and film a TV show in such a small kitchen.
How did you find recipes for My Little French Kitchen?
It was a mix of everything. I asked my French friends whether they had any contacts/friends/family I could visit. I also used social media and the slow food movement in France. Finally I just wandered/drove around and so happened upon a treasure.
What are the challenges in making a living out of what you love to do?
Well, I’m actually living between Paris and London at the moment as I’m filming a new show in London. I still have the same apartment in Paris but my London place is a bit bigger. It has a real bed (in Paris it’s a fold out futon) in a bedroom!. The biggest challenge would have to be time. Managing my time is becoming harder and harder. I feel sometimes I spend more time doing press interviews and events sometimes than actually being in the kitchen. Also I miss the anonymity. When I turned my Paris apartment into a two seat ‘restaurant’ it was before the TV, so nobody really cared about an English girl cooking food in a small Paris apartment. I did consider reopening it when I was testing recipes for My Little French Kitchen but I felt people would scrutinize me in a different way. And most importantly my mum would worry too much (she already worried when I let strangers into my apartment before the TV).
I was interested in your comments (in your latest book) about the lack of a new generation to take over traditional roles in rural food production. Why is this happening?
I think this is happening worldwide. It’s not just a French problem. Producing food is a back-breaking job which pays very little. I don’t know many people who want that kind of job.
What can be done to stimulate interest?
It’s already happening with movements such as slow food, the media picking up on stories about small producers and also more of the general public showing a keen interest. At the end of the day it all comes down to the consumer. Where you spend your money is the ultimate power and influencer in this situation.
Is the government doing enough?
I think the French government has done quite a bit but there’s always room for improvement. The fact that in Paris access to fresh food markets and independent food stores is easy and accessible makes a huge difference. Supermarkets are only allowed to own smaller sized supermarkets in the city which makes it easier for independent food stores and markets to compete.
Can big food corporations be resisted?
Yes and no. Everyone is time poor and ultimately the responsibility lies with the consumer to make the extra effort where possible. I understand that at the end of a long day at work, people want an easy option and supermarkets offer that. I think it’s all about balance and where possible to make the better choice and support local/small producers.
You can’t beat a flaky, buttery pain au chocolat.
How can travellers to France find food experiences off the tourist trails?
Learn French. Getting around speaking only English is not going to help with finding off the beaten track experiences.
Check out her recipes: Roast Red Wine Chicken and the classic Kugelhopf.
My Little French Kitchen by Rachel Khoo,
published by Penguin Australia, $39.99 rrp.