In conversation with

Rachel Khoo

broadcaster, food writer, author The Little Swedish Kitchen

rachel khoo in khoollect

Introduction

Introduction

Rachel Khoo is a writer and broadcaster who chronicles her life through food. She’s fronted cookery programmes for the BBC and written a total of six books (though she’s only just become comfortable with calling herself a writer). You might remember The Little Paris Kitchen, which brought to life Rachel’s time in Paris where she moved to study patiesserie. Her latest volume – The Little Swedish Kitchen – documents Rachel’s move to Stockholm and her relationship with Scandinavian food (and includes lots of salting, pickling and brining). She says: “I wanted to write about my experience of discovering a new culture, society and food”.

On top of all this Rachel’s got her own youtube channel, a newsletter and a creative studio called Khoollect, which celebrates culinary inspiration from around the world (and also has the dreamiest kitchen). The most interesting part? Rachel never even planned on becoming a chef, but merely fell in love with the visual side of the food world while studying at art college.

Question and Answer

Are there any novels you love for their description of their food?

It’s not necessary a novel but Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter had me wishing I had the talent to be able to describe food so you can taste it in your mouth while you’re reading the book.

As a young woman who were some of the chef’s that you admired?

It wasn’t chefs I admired as I’ve never strived to become one. When I was studying my design degree at Central Saint Martins I devoured cookbooks and magazines. The visual aspect was what initially attracted me. I couldn’t always afford the books and would often spend hours flicking through the books on the shelves of book shops. Donna Hay for me was and is a big inspiration in terms of food styling and simplicity in recipe writing. I remember reading Nigella Lawson’s beauty column in the Times before she became known for her cookbooks and admired how she was so effortlessly eloquent. I have a battered first edition of How to Be A Domestic Goddess at home which has far too many greasy finger marks on it.

how to be a domestic goddess nigella
pile of cookbooks

When creating The Little Paris Kitchen, which other French cookbooks inspired you?

Julia Child and Elizabeth David were big influences. I have an old copy of Elizabeth David’s French provincial cooking which I got from my Granny.

"I have an old copy of Elizabeth David’s French provincial cooking which I got from my Granny"

Talk to us about your latest book, The Little Swedish Kitchen?

All my cookbooks have been chapters of my life or personal journeys. So The Little Paris Kitchen was about me discovering Paris and the food there, My Little French Kitchen went around France and My Kitchen Notebooks went around the world. I’ve lived in Sweden for the past two years and spent so much time there that I wanted to write about my experience of discovering a new culture, society and food.

What’s so interesting about Swedish food?

Because of the location of Sweden you can’t grow like you can in France, Italy or Spain. The abundance of produce is not the same, so that means you have to be creative. It’s about how you preserve ingredients – by salting, brining or smoking. You’re not going to have to stock up on 20 different ingredients to cook a recipe from this book; you’ve got these core ingredients that you just find different ways of cooking with. I really enjoyed having a limited palette to create delicious dishes.

Then there are the seasons. The winters in Sweden are long, dark and cold but the Swedish mentality is that you just embrace it (there’s actually a Swedish saying which is “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes”.) What I found living through the winters there was that I wanted to bring in sunshine and make things that were bright and colourful to balance it. The Swedes are very good at balance – they have fika and they love their coffee and bun time but you won’t see them eating that everyday.

little swedish kitchen rachel-khoo

Do you find writing easy? How do you approach a story?

No. I went to Art college to avoid having to write, so find it rather ironic that I spend so much time doing it. I always struggle with writing and am very envious of people who seem to be able to write eloquently and make it look so effortless. My approach is to research my interviewee and make sure I ask them the right questions so I get the interesting answers. I’ve only just owned the fact that I am a writer. My mum said I have really relaxed into my style; I’ve let go of the idea that I have to be Nigella or Anthony Bourdain. I write in a conversational way where it feels I’m chatting to you in the kitchen.

“I've let go of the idea that I have to be Nigella Lawson or Anthony Bourdain. I write in a conversational way where it feels I’m chatting to you in the kitchen. ”

You have had various cooking shows aired on television – how did you learn to present on TV? What advice would you give for budding TV hosts?

I learnt on the job. When I found out that the Little Paris Kitchen had been commissioned I seriously thought the BBC would send me on a presenting course. That didn’t happen. They just plonked me in front of the camera and the director would ask questions. I have learnt and am still learning on the job. Energy and presence are super important. I sometimes jump and down before we start shooting to get my energy up. No one wants to watch me mumbling into the camera. In essence what is most important is to be yourself.

Tell us about Khoollect. What story are you trying to tell with it?

Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to discover and learn more. I reached a point when I wanted to move beyond the realm of my personal brand and have a platform and a community where I could talk/feature people/subjects that I was interested about. Move from being in front of the camera to being behind. Khoollect has evolved from the being just an online platform to becoming a community and also a studio space. Last year Khoollect worked with numerous brands to renovate a standard small 2 bedroom flat into a multifunctional studio/office and base for me to stay at when I’m in London. This was a huge learning process for me in terms of setting up partnerships with brands. I went from being used to being approached with projects to being the one cold calling CEO’s/Marketing directors and pitching partnerships. It was very humbling (I never assume anyone knows who I am) but such an amazing learning experience. The skills I learnt has helped me enormously in the way I’ve approached the launch of the new book. I’ve worked on a couple of videos – one with the £1 chefs and one with Katie Quinn – and have done podcast with The Lifestyle Edit and Desert Island Dishes.

What are some of your favourite podcasts?

Podcasts have been a lifesaver with all the buggy pushing I’ve done over the last year and a half. I absolutely love Jessie Ware and her mum’s podcast, Table Manners. They have such a laid back approach to interviewing their guests and it often has me laughing out loud. Desert Island dishes for Margot’s soothing voice and interviewees. BBC food programme is consistently informative and interesting.

jessie ware table manners
"I absolutely love Jessie Ware’s and her mum’s podcast, Table Manners"

How do you manage your social media?

I do find it’s a distraction. When you’re writing a cookbook you’ve got to research, develop and test and it’s really a job in itself to keep up with social media. I love the platform and I love that I can share things on there but I invest more in my newsletter. I spend a lot of time putting it together and sharing what I’m up to – making e-cookbooks and things like that. Also I own that, Zuckerberg can’t lay claims to it! I love social media for what it is but it’s draining if you’re creating extra work.

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