PARIS (AFP) ― From au pair to television chef of the moment, Rachel Khoo has come a long way since she landed in Paris from London six years ago, armed with schoolgirl French and a love of cooking.
With a bestselling recipe book and BBC series, “The Little Paris Kitchen,” now under her belt, the 31-year-old looks well placed to be the next big thing on the television chef scene. Or rather, the next small thing.
For Khoo’s new-found fame comes courtesy of the micro-restaurant which the bubbly brunette ran in her tiny 21-square-metre studio in the city’s bohemian Belleville district.
Hosting AFP at the tiny flat, Khoo explained that her bijou eatery was a side-effect of research for what would become “The Little Paris Kitchen” recipe book ― her third after two volumes of cake recipes for a French publisher.
“It was because I’m single! I live on my own and if you test 120 recipes ― there’s so much food that goes to waste,” she said. “I wanted to be able to test recipes, not waste food, and have some money to cover the ingredients.”
So in January last year the young chef decided to tap into the worldwide trend for home restaurants.
Hugely popular with hipsters over the last couple of years, these lunch or supper clubs see amateur cooks play chef at their own tables to invited guests in return for a donation to cover costs.
There was no shortage of Parisians willing to help with the leftovers of her experiments in bringing a British twist to Gallic classics.
Dishes such as croque madame muffins made with Anglo-style sliced white bread and French lamb stew with quintessentially English mint sauce were so popular that word-of-mouth and a buzz on the blogosphere soon had people clamouring for a space at her table.
Despite the fact that even after folding away her sofa bed to make space for the table, Khoo could only seat two guests at a time, 1,000 people joined her mailing list.
“It kind of went crazy,” she said. “Some people were so desperate to come here, it was unbelievable. People would send me their life stories, saying please let me come, it’ll make my week ― it’ll make my year!”
On the back of this success, a deal with the BBC followed, and Khoo’s Anglo-French fusion dishes are proving something of a hit with British audiences too, with the series debuting with one and a half million viewers.
Her recipe book, published last month, last week hit number one in the British hardback charts, and has been translated into nine languages.
Khoo has had to put her little kitchen on standby for now as she embarks on a book tour around Europe.
Growing up in the London suburb of Croydon, the daughter of an Austrian mother and a Malay-Chinese father, Khoo studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins art college before deciding to chase up her dream of living in Paris.
Once there she au paired and worked in a cookery book store, before enrolling at the capital’s Cordon Bleu school to study patisserie.
Central to her foodie concept is the simplicity of the recipes and the setting ― Khoo can touch both walls of her kitchen if she stretches her arms out and she turns out flawless food on a two-ring stove.
Khoo believes much of her appeal lies in her shabby-chic accessibility, a good pitch for a lifestyle show during a recession.
Pointing out the cracks in the kitchen ceiling and her ancient hob, she says she wants to “show people you don’t need an amazing kitchen to cook delicious French food.”
And with the book’s French version set for release in October, bringing her little kitchen adventure full circle, she laughed that her proudest achievement so far was, “to be an English girl telling the French how to cook!”