Rachel Khoo
Rachel Khoo

Pastry chef and food author, Rachel Khoo, was in South Africa to promote her third cooking series, Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook: Cosmopolitan Cook, on BBC Lifestyle and to attend Jozi’s Delicious Festival on Saturday. Debashine Thangevelo bagged a one-on-one with the her to learn more about her meteoric rise on TV…

RACHEL Khoo is an undeniably fresh import from book to TV. The thirty-something British chef and author has cemented her popularity since the screening of The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo, which was succeeded by Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook: London.

Tonight caught up with Khoo at her hotel.

She proudly says: “I had rooibos tea this morning – going with the locals (smiles). I had fruit (for breakfast). Tea is very important. I can’t get through the morning without a big pot of tea. Otherwise, I like my porridge. And sometimes I have a fry-up, but not every day.”

Quite the sex kitten, Khoo is mindful of overindulging. After all, the expanding waistlines of foodie heavyweights like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson are proof of how “tasting” can go horribly wrong.

On maintaining her trim figure, Khoo says: “You don’t eat all of it. When I’m testing cake recipes, I usually cut a little slice and put the rest of it in a tin and go around to my neighbour. The key is to give it away.

“Monday to Friday, I try to be healthy and then on Saturday and Sunday I cheat. You can’t always be healthy – I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow. I like my food. I like my butter. I like my sweets. But you just can’t have it every day. That is why it should be a treat.

“When I was living in Paris, I was always asked: ‘Oh, the croissants there are so buttery and flaky, do you eat that every day?’ I’m like: ‘No!’. I only have it when I go to my particular bakery.”

On how The Little Paris Kitchen has been instrumental to her TV success, Khoo says: “When I approached the publishers in the UK and said: ‘Hey, I have this idea…’ and Penguin signed me up, I was like: ‘Oh my goodness!’ I was so excited. For me, the book was the big thing. Then TV came along because I went to production houses and said: ‘I’ve got this cook book idea which I think would make a great TV show, what do you think?’ A small indie production house liked the idea and we pitched it to networks. I just gave it a go. You know what they say, you have to be in it to win it. Doors might not open, but you have to try. As soon as the TV thing was signed up, I knew things were going to change.

“It was partly timing, partly having a good idea and hard work. You know, this didn’t fall on my lap. I often get a little bit annoyed by people who just assume this happened because I have a certain look. As a woman, I think it is quite condescending to think that just because you are attractive, you get something. But I won’t get into my feminist rant here.”

While shooting the first series was challenging because of the space constraints, her London show was much better.

She laughs: “The kitchen in London is bigger and I cleared out my kitchen in Paris and put it all in there. Someone tweeted me the other day asking: ‘Isn’t that the bowl you used in The Little Paris Kitchen?’ I’m like: ‘Yes.’”

On the inspiration behind the second and third series, Khoo says she always carries around a notebook and does little doodles of dishes/recipes.

She points out: “I thought that’s a great concept to bring to a show, blending food and travel or food and people, if you like. I like to stew or mull over things. I could be lying in the bath and, ping, an idea hits me. Then you go and cook it. It might be a disaster and you rework it. Instagram works a lot for me. I like to keep things visual.

“It usually starts off by meeting somebody or tasting something. Or I might be at home and have these ingredients in the fridge and the director will say we need a recipe that is short and quick. So I sit down, brainstorm and then go into the kitchen and experiment. The (creative) seed often starts by going out there.”

And that is exactly what she does for season three.

“They let me roam wild in Europe and a little bit in Asia. All these amazing cities have a connection with me. We went to Barcelona, they have these amazing tapas. I also had a lot of memories as I did an exchange with an art college there. That’s also why I wanted to go back. I also visited Stockholm, Naples and Nice. Istanbul was the one place where I hadn’t been, but really wanted to go. For me, going to that place was magical. You’ve got the call for prayer in the morning. It has that East meets West feel, where they are modern but they still have their traditions.”

She proved quite adept at fishing in Sweden as well.

She infuses all her experiences and tastes of wide-ranging dishes into the recipes for her Cosmopolitan series.

Aside from the fond memories of working on this taxing shoot, which also saw her double as her own make-up artist (not that she needs it – she is naturally beautiful), Khoo is working on her next cookbook.

Just one more titbit on the chef – she has a weakness for a packet of salt and vinegar crisps – and “not the posh ones”.

Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook: Cosmopolitan Cook airs on BBC Lifestyle on Tuesday June 24 at 9pm.