Rachel Khoo barely pauses for breath, as she lists off the reasons why the tiny Parisian flat in which she found fame wasn’t as romantic as it seemed.
“Everybody has this rose-tinted vision of The Little Paris Kitchen, but there was mould growing on the ceiling, the windows didn’t shut, it was wired from the Sixties,” says the TV chef. “So you could have electrocuted yourself, it was drafty, you could hear the neighbour snoring - and doing other things...”
The Croydon-born foodie, who recently revealed that she once took a cookery course at Leiths School of Food and Wine with the Duchess of Cambridge, moved to the French capital in 2006 and studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu.
She was later snapped up by the BBC to front The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking With Rachel Khoo, a show demystifying French food, in which Khoo whipped up impressive meals inside her quirky and cramped studio apartment.
As more TV series, books and newspaper columns followed, Khoo continued to wizard up everything from Quiche Lorraine to molten lava cake in her tiny toaster oven. But the time for change finally came...
“I was recipe-tasting a cake, it rose and the top got stuck to the oven so it burnt and I was there scraping it,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘You know what? I have done a TV show on the BBC, I’ve published three books, I am over this small kitchen!’”
The 33-year-old has kept on her place in Paris, but is now based primarily in the UK (“All the work is coming out of London, so it just makes sense,” she notes), where she has invested in a decent-sized oven and a proper bed.
“For eight years, I slept on a futon bed, so every time I get into bed now I’m like, ‘Ahhh’,” she says with a sigh of pleasure. “It’s a real bed, and I don’t have to fold it up!”
In addition to travelling to foodie destinations around the world for her Kitchen Notebook show on the Good Food Channel, busy Khoo has been working on recipes with British Cherries, the industry body that represents more than 70% of growers.
With her natural beauty and vintage style, she was also chosen to model for Marks and Spencer’s star-studded Leading Ladies ad campaign earlier this year, alongside the likes of actress Emma Thompson and singers Annie Lennox and Rita Ora.
“Emma Thompson was chatting to me in French and was like, ‘Oh, I really want to come round to your little Paris kitchen for lunch’,” Khoo says. “I was like, ‘You know about me? Oh my goodness!’”
But Khoo, who studied art and worked in public relations before embarking on her cookery career, reveals that she came under pressure to change her look from one production company, when she first pitched the Little Paris Kitchen TV idea.
“There was a mention of, ‘You’re on the heavier side, maybe you should lose some weight’, kind of thing. It wasn’t said that [directly], you know how they say things in a round about way?”
Needless to say, Khoo didn’t work with them.
“I have curves, I exercise twice a week, I cycle, I try and eat healthily, I’m no supermodel,” she reasons.
“With all the things I do, I want it to be approachable and accessible.”
Cherry-lovers can approach Khoo’s summery British Cherries recipes with delight. Here are three to try at home. For more information, visit www.seasonalberries.co.uk or follow @BritishBerries on Twitter.
SUMMER SALAD WITH FETA AND PICKLED CHERRIES (serves 4 as a starter)
1 medium courgette, stalk removed
1/2 firm cantaloupe melon, skin and seeds removed
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Small handful mint leaves
100g feta (a creamy burrata or mozzarella will also work)
For the pickled cherries:
50ml red wine vinegar
1tbsp sea salt
100g caster sugar
200g cherries, halved and stones removed
First make the cherries: Place the red wine vinegar, salt, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring to make sure all the salt and sugar has dissolved.
Take off the heat, pour into a bowl or container and leave to cool for five minutes.
Add the cherries and leave to cool to room temperature. If making ahead of time, place in the fridge to chill.
Next make the rest of the salad: Use a speed peeler or mandolin to make courgette ribbons the length of the courgette.
With a knife or a mandoline, thinly slice the melon into long strips. Toss the melon and courgette in a bowl with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a large platter. Sprinkle on the mint, crumble on the feta and scatter over the cherries.
Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the pickling liquid over the top.
SMASHED CHOCOLATE LICORICE MERINGUES WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND CHERRIES (serves 6)
3 medium egg whites
150g soft dark brown sugar
30g cocoa powder
40g soft black licorice sweets, chopped very finely (optional)
125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
200ml whipping cream
30g dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 120C (fan-assisted). Place the chocolate and the licorice in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of just simmering water (don’t let the base touch the water).
Once melted, take off the heat and leave to cool for five minutes.
In the meantime, begin to whisk the egg whites with the salt until very frothy, then gradually crumble in the sugar while whisking continually. Whisk until the egg whites reach quite firm peaks.
Sift in the cocoa powder and pour in the cooled melted chocolate. Fold until the cocoa powder and chocolate are incorporated. (Try not to over-fold the meringue with the chocolate and cocoa powder. You want to keep as much of the air in the meringue as possible.)
Spoon six heaps onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes, or until crisp and dry on the outside.
Whip the cream to soft peaks. Cut the cherries in half (you can keep the stalks on for decoration).
To serve, crumble up the meringue along the serving plate. Place the whipped cream in a piping bag and make dots of cream randomly in the plate. Dress with the cherry halves prettily. Use a vegetable peeler or a grater to add little flakes of chocolate to the top.
ROASTED CHERRY AND VANILLA MOUSSE MILLEFEUILLE (makes 4)
320g ready rolled all butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2tbsp golden caster sugar
300g cherries, halved and stones removed
2tbsp caster sugar
110g soft curd cheese
110ml whipping cream
Seeds from half a vanilla pod
1tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C (fan-assisted). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cut the pre-rolled puff pastry into 12 rectangles (10x4cm each) and place on the baking tray.
Use a pastry brush to brush the top of the pastry with the beaten egg. Sprinkle lightly with the sugar.
Place another piece of baking paper on top covering the pastry rectangles, and a wire rack or lightweight baking tray on top (this is to stop the pastry rising too much). Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
In the meantime, toss the cherries in the sugar and place in a baking dish. Cover with aluminium foil loosely and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but holding their shape.
Remove the cherries and pastry from the oven and set aside to cool.
Split the vanilla pod in half along the length. Use the back of the knife to scrape out the grains. Add this to the cream in a large bowl and whip up the cream to soft peaks with the sugar.
Beat the soft curd to remove any lumps. Fold the whipped cream in the curd. Place in a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle.
To assemble, place a small blob of mousse on the plate to stick the first pastry rectangle down. Line the cherries up along one side of the rectangle and pipe small dollops of cream along the other side. Repeat the process with the next rectangle. Dust with a little icing sugar.
Repeat the whole process another three times to make four in total.