Last week I was lucky enough to be one of the food writers asked to cook with TV superchef and author, Rachel Khoo at Clapham’s Cactus Kitchens (where they film Saturday Morning Kitchen and yes, I did get the obligatory fangirl photo behind the Saturday Kitchen counter…and opening the oven…and at the guest table, but who’s counting?) to test out some of the recipes that’ll be featured in her two, brand spanking new cookery shows, which start this evening on the Good Food channel.
I’ve always admired Rachel Khoo and have secretly lusted after that little Paris studio apartment and her vie en France for years. I’m delighted to report that she is just as lovely in person as she comes across in the world of TV and, instead of being intimidatingly ‘cheffy’, is reassuringly down to earth, even to the point of occasionally forgetting her ingredients and letting a few expletives slip out.
And she has a deep-seated love of my favourite food: cheese. So much so that when we (some of the most exciting food bloggers in London apparently – god knows what I was doing there but shhhh in case someone points me out as the impostor in what was an impressive line up that included The Food Urchin, Food for Think, and Crump Eats and The Cutlery Chronicles) were bombarding her with questions about favourite foods and final meals before a trip to le guillotine the answers generally involved cheese, which makes her alright in my book.
In her latest series, Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook: London, the diminutive Cordon Bleu trained chef has left her little Paris kitchen and been transported to a London venue, before leaving it again to eat and cook her way around some of the best foodie destinations in Europe from Istanbul to Stockholm in Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook: Cosmopolitan Cook. Her recipes are packed with simple flavours, tinged with food memories and touches of culinary nostalgia and often based on ingredients that have been gleaned and gathered from her trips around the world and her heritage.
We tried our hands at Spaeztle, light as air dumpling pearls that Khoo grew up on courtesy of her Austrian mother. Khoo’s Spaeztle were stained green with garlic and parsley, tossed in bucket loads of butter, Parmesan and roasted onion petals and served strewn with butter-fried sage and thyme and where, in short, heavenly.
Next we were tasked with creating a layered savoury Scandinavian cake called Smörgåstårta, which is almost as fiddly to decorate as it is to pronounce, especially when the loaded word ‘competition’ was dropped into the mix by Khoo. The kitchen was notably more quiet as suddenly each blogger started concentrating on making roses out of cured salmon and cucumber balls using that most 80s of kitchen utensils: the melon baller. All I remember at the five minute warning point was sticking parsley leaves and cucumber grapes onto the side of my Smörgåstårta and trying to force a beetroot to look like a flower while almost succumbing to a full Bake-off technical bake style panic.
As soon as Rachel started taking about making petals with slivers of beetroot, in my head I saw a garden made with shards of dill sculpted along a cucumber base , growing into parsley stalk vines that would twist upwards, topped by whole leaves, delicate seeds of cucumber grapes and ribbons before swirling into purple beetroot flowers and fat salmon roses. What I ended up with was a bit less Secret Garden and more science project, but I was stupidly pleased with it in the end.
At the moment, Khoo is hanging out in Hackney and getting to grips with the ever changing London food scene, which, as she admits in the video edit below, is a very different kettle of fish to Paris’. You can see the full edit of our inside workshop plus hear Rachel’s take on the London’s love of pop up fast food and find out who took home the Smörgåstårta crown (if you hadn’t manage to guess yet based on my fetching gurn in the below picture with Khoo) in the specially tailored video that the team at Cactus was lovely enough to cut for me.