When I moved to Paris in the spring of 2009, I was as ravenous to explore the city’s food scene as I was to find a home and community of friends. One way I found I could meet people, learn a bit about local culture and customs, and eat some delicious food all at the same time was by taking the occasional cooking class. Which is how I met Rachel Khoo, author of La Petite Cuisine (Penguin, UK) and host of Little Paris Kitchen on the BBC, both debuting this spring.
It was a bright and sunny August afternoon that I found myself attending the modern Electrolux-sponsored kitchen inside the Palais de Tokyo. There were 12 of us students and I could tell the pretty Brit with red lips, a retro sundress and kitchen confidence had something going on. That something—I learned while whipping eggs for our plum clafoutis as she filleted our Provençal sardines—was pastry training from Le Cordon Bleu and a burgeoning career as a “food creative.”
Over the next few months I experienced Rachel’s creative food endeavors: a muesli-tasting party while she developed recipes for her first cookbook, Barres à Céreales, Muesli et Granola Maison (Marabout, 2010). A pie-making class at La Cocotte. An 80s-themed dinner party, complete with Pac-Man shaped foie gras. And, most exciting of all, I was invited to be there for the grand opening of her Parisian restaurant—a wee party of two at La Petite Cuisine à Paris.
Rachel’s itty-bitty restaurant was one of the most coveted reservations in town throughout the spring and summer of 2011. As soon as word got out about her cooking—described by Rachel herself as “an English girl’s perspective on French food”—everyone wanted a taste. My lunch made it easy to understand why.
To begin, we had cauliflower baked in a creamy béchamel sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and hazelnuts—a humble vegetable, sinfully gratin-ized. The main was a beautiful sweet and floral orange-lavender chicken, served alongside perfectly dressed greens. Again, modest fare made fabulous. And for dessert, we sliced into soft, warm baked apples speared with cinnamon sticks and served in a pool of béchamel, this one sweet (“If you know how to make a béchamel, you can make 10 different sauces,” Rachel said). To accompany all the deliciousness, there was rosé from the South of France, pain des amis from Du Pain et des Idées and lovely conversation with Rachel Bajada, the other lucky lunch guest that maiden day.
As Rachel toiled—ever so stylishly—and word spread—ever so swiftly—the inevitable happened: she got her own cooking show. Rachel’s mission to break down French recipes so they’re not only less complicated, but more modern, struck the right chord. A deal was struck with BBC Two and, as of late January, filming began in Rachel’s wee 3m2 kitchen.
The first season, airing in the UK this spring, will be six episodes in which Rachel takes viewers out to the best markets and food purveyors and into her humble kitchen. Beef bourguignon and tarte tatin will be served. Bellies will rumble. And the inevitable comparison to Nigella Lawson will be made. But don’t be fooled. With her Malay-Chinese-Austrian heritage, her modern sensibilities and her undeniably fun charm, Rachel will prove she’s in a (cooking) class all of her own.
Written by Amy Thomas for the HiP Paris Blog. All images (except last) from rachelkhoo.com. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in London, Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in.