I had been a little perplexed by the girl crush concept. That was until I had the opportunity to interview Rachel Khoo. I had admired Khoo from afar; I found her cookery show fun and Rachel a great advocate for approachable French cooking. But there was a part of me that wanted her to not be down-to-earth, generous with her time, knowledgeable about food and completely delightful. Because for the most part, we’ve had a similar career trajectory: worked in jobs that didn’t excite us, dropped the safety of a regular pay cheque to chase our dreams, professional training at Le Cordon Bleu, and cookbook deals. Then Rachel left me for dead, picked up a prime time cooking spot on BBC TV and basically started owning the world of food and all things French. Yet instead of being envious of her success, I love her all the more for it. Because behind those Tom Ford Cherry Rush laden lips and vintage 50s threads, is a motivated and driven career woman working her arse off, and one who deserves all the success that comes her way.
On the surface it might seem like something out of a movie. British girl quits job in fashion PR, moves to Paris, studies at French culinary school, gets picked up by a major publisher and then finds herself on prime time British TV. But to get those things, each and every one of those things, she worked multiple jobs, knocked on doors for opportunities, lived in far from salubrious digs in far from salubrious neighbourhoods and wrote two cookbooks before her major market breakthrough with The Little Paris Kitchen.
Rachel says much of her success lies in remaining true to herself. It was essential that the show came from her own kitchen and her life so that people could relate to her.
“Here I am in a small kitchen, two gas rings, and my little oven, showing people that you can cook delicious food without the high tech equipment and by making the most of what you have. People can relate to that and a lot of people are struggling at the moment – people are cutting back. My show epitomizes that." says Khoo.
And that is exactly how the show was filmed. Where most TV chefs enjoy the delights of studio kitchens and salubrious budgets, Khoo invited the camera into her home.
“There was no budget for hair or makeup. It was just me, the editor and the camera-man. Sure we used wide-angle lenses and didn’t focus on the cracks in the ceiling or the tears in the wallpaper but it was a show on a shoestring and its all the more real for it.”
It was also important to Rachel, that it wasn’t sexualised. She didn’t want another loaded image of the woman in the kitchen.
“It’s a show my mum is going to watch. It’s also about being respected in the kitchen. Ultimately I want to be taken seriously – I take what I do seriously. I work hard and I want that to be recognized for that. This is my character. I want to show that learning something, having a skill, is far more important than being a pretty face," she says.
And it is an approach that has paid off. Since the release of The Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel has sold over 70,000 copies in the UK alone with the book being released in Holland, France, Germany and Italy. Her show is being aired in multiple countries and she writes a weekly column for the UK Evening Standard amongst her many other culinary commitments.
Perhaps most importantly, her recipes work. Khoo's ditched Michelin star cooking for real every day French cooking and our culinary landscape is all the richer for it.
A recipe from The Little Paris Kitchen
Onion and crème fraîche tart
Provence had Pissaladière, while in Alsace they have tarte flambée, a pizza- style base topped with crème fraîche, lardoons and onions- popular ingredients in Alsatian cuisine.
Gluten- free is a concept that hasn’t quite caught on in the land of baguettes, and it can be frustrating for anyone on a gluten- free diet who wants to try delicious French pastries and bread, so here I’ve replaced the regular wheat base with chestnut flour and tapioca starch. This means no kneading is required- just mix the ingredients together to form a ball.
160g chestnut flour
140g tapioca starch
1 teaspoon guar gum**
1 ½ teaspoons baking poweder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light soft brown sugar
5g dried yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
190ml warm water
For the topping
4 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 red onions, thinly sliced
100g lardoons or cubes of smoked bacon
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Make the base. Mix together the flour tapioca starch, guar gum, baking powder, salt and sugar in the warm water. When the yeast begins to foam, pour it into the well and mix everything together to form a ball. Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of baking powder until it is 5mm thick, then place it into a baking tin that is large enough for the pastry to sit flat. (The shape doesn’t really matter, it’s the 5mm thickness that’s important.) Remove the top layer of paper and trim off any excess paper from around the edges of the bottom piece.
Preheat the oven to 200°C and place a large baking tray in the oven to get hot.
Spread the crème fraîche over the dough, the sprinkle the onions, lardoons and thyme leaves on top. Slide the baking tin on to the hot baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the edges are crisp. The tart is traditionally eaten warm, but it’s great cold too.
*Chestnut flour can be bought in health shops and online. For tapioca starch, try your supermarket or a Chinese grocery store.
** Guar gum is a very powerful thickening agent made from guar beans. You can find it in powdered form online and in health food shops.
For a sweet topping, replace the onions and lardoons with thinly sliced apples and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon and brown sugar.
Preparation time: 30 minutes Baking time: 20-30 minutes