Since hitting our screens on BBC2’s The Little Paris Kitchen... earlier this year, Rachel Khoo has won over legions of fans with her simple and indulgent recipes, her gorgeously bohemian apartment and her cool, retro style (three cheers for red lipstick!).
By ditching her job in London to move to Paris and attend a three-month patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu cookery school six years ago, she is living a dream coveted by many but enacted by few.
Recently, Rachel joined Stylist for a live web chat, where she revealed a wealth of inspiration on everything from setting up a business in a foreign country to her beloved kitchen accessories and favourite culinary hot spots in the city of light. A treat for romantic adventurers and impassioned foodies alike - here are her top tips...
Moving to Paris
I find it so interesting that you just upped and moved to Paris especially as I read you couldn't really speak French - what was the final catalyst for you deciding to do it? And if you had your time over again, what would you do differently if anything? Thanks!
I think for me the final push to move to Paris was the fact I wanted an adventure and I was slightly bored of my life in London. I was very comfortable (well paid job, friends etc.) but was lacking excitement in my life. And Paris seemed the perfect escape to an adventure.
I remember you saying that you didn't speak French before you moved to Paris. How did you get so fluent? Did you have lessons when you arrived or did you learn as you went?
I went to several French classes when I first moved to Paris but I learnt most of it from living. I think the best way I improved my French was when I got a job selling perfume in a Parisian department store. It was a dull job but brilliant for my French!
How easy was it to learn French, start a business and gain exposure in a foreign country?
Moving to France is not the hard part. Living here is more difficult. Of course there are many benefits but it's not always easy especially if you don't speak the language. I've ran a business in France for several years and I must say it's probably one of the worst country to be an entrepreneur.
I suggest getting a job in France rather than trying to run your own business at the beginning. That way you can enjoy life in a foreign country without having to worry too much about all the paperwork of running a business. Good luck!
Attending Le Cordon Bleu patisserie course
How did you afford to study at Le Cordon Bleu - do they have a scolarship program?
The course cost €8000 and I actually saved up €8000. I only did the basic pâtisserie course which costs roughly €8000 as I couldn't afford to do the whole year. Unfortunately I don't know of any scholarships.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start out in pâtisserie as you did, but cannot afford the fees to Le Cordon Bleu? Are they any alternatives for an English person in Paris, or London?
First tip is to get work experience (usually unpaid) at the best pâtisserie/hotel/restaurant possible. You can learn an enormous amount from working on the job. There are also plenty of great books out there like Pierre Hermé (French pastry chef) which you could use to teach yourself. Good luck!
Hello, I'm 13 and I really want to become a pastry chef when I'm older and I also would love to train at Le Cordon Bleu. Would I need to learn French if I came to Paris or is it okay to speak English? And are there any tips you could give me?
For the basic and intermediate courses you don't need to speak French as they offer a translation into English. However I do recommend learning some basic French as usually the Chefs English isn't that great. And most importantly you'll be living in Paris, so French will come in handy.
Setting up a home-based restaurant
What inspired you to open your own restaurant in your own apartment?
I opened a restaurant in my apartment because I had to test 120 recipes for my cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen. I didn't want to waste the food but didn't have a budget to open in a "real" restaurant. So I decided to open a "home" restaurant in my apartment instead. For the moment my home restaurant is closed. I'm not planning on opening anything but who knows?
How you got around the legal/health & safety issues to open a restaurant in your flat - did you face many obstacles or was it quite straightforward?
I regards to the health and safety regulations of running a restaurant in my home, I had previously done similar pop up restaurants in unusual venues around the world. It's key to ask for a donation. If it's a donation to cover the cost of ingredients and not a fixed price you are not under the same obligations.*
However I still think it's a good idea to take a health and safety course. I did one before I embarked on catering/cooking professionally.
- I'm not a specialist in the UK so please double check with your local authority.
Parisian hot spots
My daughter is moving to Paris in September, where can she find the best food markets? In particular the wonderful vegetable seller you visit!
My favourite market is Marché d'aligre (see my Stylist Paris guide). It has a cheap bargain end and then a slightly more expensive end with more specialised artisanal products. It's quite big with a covered and open market. The veg guy in the show, Joël Thiebault (also listed in the guide), has amazing veg but sells at the other end of town, in the 16th. A little more pricier but worth it!
Do you have any recommendations of somewhere that is special to eat in Paris?
I really like Au Passage, 1bis, passage de Saint-Sebastien. It's part of the new breed of neo-bistros offering natural wines, sharing plates featuring excellent ingredients and a laid-back atmosphere.
Would you agree that the finest falafel in Paris town is L'As du Fallafel on Rue des Roisiers? I have tried many, but have always come back to L'As!
I agree! L'As du Fallafel on Rue des Roisiers is the best Falafel. I've yet to eat a better one in Paris.
I want to ask a lovely boy out on a date in Paris and I know he loves cake! Please could you recommend a couple of really cool, unusual places where I can buy him sort sort of woo-me gateaux?
You have to go to Pâtisserie des Rêves (pastry shop of dreams). The cakes are amazing! My favourite is a Paris Brest: choux pastry ring with flaked almonds filled with a praline pastry cream. Divine! You can swoop your date off his feet with a cake from there!
Do you know of a place in Paris where you can buy cheddar cheese? I lived there last year and really struggled
It's not easy to find cheddar cheese in Paris but now M&S is open again on the Champs Elysées it shouldn't be too hard to get your fix!
General cooking tips
If you had one tip for someone who cannot cook, what would it be? I have struggled to cook and I want to invite people round for dinner; it's such a lovely thing to do. I need to start with the basics. What would you recommend in terms of books or dishes?
Think simple and advance preparation when it comes to entertaining friends. There are lots of simple recipes in my book, The Little Paris Kitchen. You could start off with eggs in pots (crème fraîche, egg plus seasoning in the oven) and then a boeuf bourguignon (one pot wonders are very hard to get wrong - trick is to cook it gentle and for a long time). Cheat with dessert and get someone else to bring it along! You've already cooked enough. Good luck!
I have tried to make Chouquettes every day this week so far. What temperature should my fan oven be at to cook them, also are they supposed to be soft the following day? Would you also be able to recommend a piping bag and what size nozzle do you use?
The oven should be at 180°c. It's normal for the chouquettes to go a little soft (it's from the humidity in the air) but you can crisp them up in an oven at 150°c for 5 minutes. I use a reusable piping bag which has a silicon coating in the inside (makes it easier to wash) with a 1cm nozzle.
Can I ask where all your pots and pans are from? They look like they have been passed down through the generations - my mum used to cook with similar ones. Thanks and I hope there will be a Series 2!
Most of my pots and pans I've found at Parisian street sales (similar to the English carboot sales but without the carboot) and charity shops. So they naturally have that worn look. My mum still needs all her pots and pans, so she's not giving me any of hers yet.
I do admire your super blender, can you tell me what make it is please?
My 'super blender' is from Electrolux. I have in the past had a Braun handblender to.
You seem to use your mandolin every week - I want to get one myself. Is there a brand or model you recommend and any other tips on essential kit for my new kitchen? Thanks
Hi Katie, the mandolin I have at home is a basic plastic Japanese one. I find they are much easier to use than the big Chef ones. You can get them online (around £25-£35). Just be careful! Use the handguard and don't be distracted when you use it.
Important things first - what lipstick do you wear? Thanks!
The red one is Cherry Lush by Tom Ford and the pink one is Schiap by Nars. I used to wear Red Russian by MAC too. Nothing like a bit of lippy to make cooking more glam!
What kind of food do you eat everyday? You have a great figure and I was just wondering how you keep slim surrounded by baguettes and brie!
At the moment I can't get enough of goat's milk yoghurt. I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables not so much meat and fish. Baguettes and croissants are not an everyday food for me. I only tend to eat it when I go past my favourite bakery (Pain Des Idées, 75010 Paris) I do have a bad cheese habit though. I can eat a big piece in one sitting easily!
Other foodie tips
Where are your favourite places to eat in London and any hidden gems or not so well known places that you've discovered?
I love the Corner Room restaurant at Bethnal Green Town Hall. The restaurant is tucked away but the food is fabulous and the interiors is pretty cool too.
Is your Dad from Malaysia and do you cook Malaysian food?
Yes, my dad is Malay-Chinese. I ate a lot of South East Asian food when I was growing up (with an odd Schnitzel, my mum is Austrian and the Sunday roast thrown in). I love a beef rendang curry. I live in Belleville which has many Chinese supermarkets so I often make SE Asian inspired dishes. I miss spicy food quite a bit.
Just wondering if there will be another series of BBC2’s The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo and if so, will it be in the same apartment or will you be relocating to fit more diners in?
Hi Vicky, I do hope there will be second series. It's a bit early to say at the moment. Filming in my apartment was a challenge to say the least. It wasn't easy fitting a TV crew in my apartment. I now know why cookery shows are filmed in big studio kitchens. Cross your fingers for me (or put in a good word for me at the BBC!)
I know you're in London next week at Harrods. But it's too far for me to get there, will you be doing any book signings in the North West? - In Manchester would be great!
For the moment I have only the book signing on the 1 May at Harrods but I'm trying to put together some more events around the UK. Keep your eyes peeled on twitter (@rkhooks), Facebook or on my website.