What do TV chefs’ kitchens tell us about them? – Little Paris Kitchen with Rachel Khoo

While Nigella has her capacious scullery and Heston his science lab, Rachel Khoo’s humble set-up is a kitchen for our times

By The Guardian’s Julia Raeside

The best cooking shows not only make you hungry, they also dangle a tantalising new lifestyle in front of you, all dappled in sunlight, gently urging you to move to the country or start throwing your own pots. A fantasy of some carefree existence in which you have time to skip through organic farmers’ markets, fondling plums and finding just the right lardons for your poule au pot.

The newest of these is the impossibly twee-sounding The Little Paris Kitchen, presented by Rachel Khoo, a Croydon-born Paris resident who serves up lunch in her minuscule studio apartment (after she’s folded away her futon to make room for the tiny table). Pots and herbs and spoons dangle from every wall; her kitchen would have Thumbelina knocking them over with her elbows.

The food is French, unpretentious and wonderful-looking and Khoo does it all on two rings and mini-oven while looking like an actual china doll in a selection of neatly proportioned vintage frocks. She should be incredibly annoying, but her clear-eyed enthusiasm and adorable home make you want to move in with her – even though there isn’t room.

Khoo’s TV kitchen is entirely fitting in this age of austerity, all humble and real with wobbly work surfaces and no dishwasher. Most TV cooks swagger about their Olympic-sized gastrodome, swinging enormous roasting tins full of produce around their heads and scattering their capacious work surfaces with chives. It’s nice to see someone selling us a lifestyle that’s actually achievable for the average wage-slave.

Irish baking maven Rachel Allen does herself no favours, wafting around her giant cookhouse, all vast expanses of worktop and panoramic views of emerald meadows through the picture window. It’s bigger than Khoo’s entire flat and seems to completely suit Allen’s simultaneously imperious/smug TV manner.

Gentleman’s favourite Nigella, meanwhile, undulates around her large, urban scullery which is softened and feminised with fairy lights and up-lit knick-knacks so you know she doesn’t take life too seriously. Look, she’s licking chocolate fondant off her fingers and lingering by the door to her enormous fridge in her nightgown, just too weak to resist seconds.

But is it her fridge? Whether a borrowed kitchen or their own, the culinary stage is carefully designed to sell – be it the food, the accompanying book or the tie-in grow-your-own herb kits.

Jamie Oliver memorably used the kitchen in his flat to great effect in the first series of The Naked Chef back when he was knee-high to a Michelin star – even if the telly company was helping him out with the rent. His exposed brickwork, scooter-riding and banister-sliding were all-important components of the show.

They told you he was a maverick and all about the joie de vivre. He didn’t have time to get his walls plastered or to actually tread on each individual step because there was too much delicious, locally sourced fun to be had. Now Jamie’s eschewing the kitchen altogether and doing his cooking in the garden, so keen is he to emphasise his connection to the ingredients. Next series will be him in a bivouac up a mountain, rubbing sticks together.

In contrast to Oliver’s ham-flinging slapdashery, Heston Blumenthal usually prefers the unforgiving stainless steel and wipe-clean severity of the science lab – only stepping into a domestic kitchen for his recent Channel 4 series. Entirely stripped of extraneous knick-knacks or jars of ornamental pasta, a professional kitchen means business. Blumenthal dissects, reduces and dehydrates with the air of Allo Allo’s Herr Flick, carefully prising the fallen Madonna with the big boobies from inside a tightly packed knockwurst.

Meanwhile, the mother of them all, Delia Smith, prefers to give instruction from either her homely kitchen or the comparative comfort of her conservatory. It’s such a 1980s status symbol, the conservatory. She’s letting you know she’s done quite well for herself but she’s also not too posh to get down on her hands and knees in the vegetable patch just visible through the window.

Meanwhile, a relatively new addition to the canon is ex-model Lorraine Pascale, who has the audacity to cook in a crisp white shirt with no apron, if you please. Her kitchen is minimalist and spotlessly presented. It says: “I’m chic. This is no effort for me. I’m a self-cleaning oak-veneered culinary paradise and I’m bigger than your whole house.”

But best and bleakest of all was Fanny Cradock’s latter-years “kitchen” set up in what was obviously a TV studio. You were most certainly not invited into Fanny’s home to get your mucky footprints all over her lino. It was desolately uncluttered with mustard/nicotine walls and depressing beige units – nothing too fussy to offset the technicolour food and the terrifying eyebrows that hovered six inches above Fanny’s head. Her drab culinary oubliette lent the already sickly looking food an added air of “after the event” despondency.

And faced with that, who wouldn’t choose Khoo’s cheerfully microscopic pixie kitchen any day of the week?

(The above article was written by The Guardian’s Julia Raeside. Copyright owner The Guardian)

Want to Watch The Little Paris Kitchen Cooking with Rachel Khoo?

Croydon-born food writer Rachel Khoo opens up her pint-sized Paris kitchen to cook up her favourite French dishes and in doing so her tiny Paris restaurant is seducing French diners and has left her the talk of the town and propelled the the 31-year-old from the little French cellar’s of obscurity (or Caveau) to the heights of a well loved Gallic culinary star.

For the penultimate time in this series, Rachel’s straightforward approach to contemporary and classic cuisine proves that making French food can be simple and remain sumptuous. Across six episodes, Rachel introduces us to her style of French food, serving up appetizing meals from luscious lunches to impressive dinners. Rachel also explores the diverse cuisines of Paris, meeting the multi-cultural food vendors, manufacturers and restaurateurs of the French capital.

WATCH:  The_Little_Paris_Kitchen_Cooking_with_Rachel_Khoo On BBC iPlayer until 30/04/2012

In the penultimate and  enticing episode, Rachel serves the lightest of desserts – iles flottantes – where delicately poached meringues drift on the creamiest vanilla custard all from her Paris apartment, which has given her the accolade of having the smallest French restaurant in Paris. She samples exquisite Normandy oysters at a stall offering five succulent varieties, then prepares gourmet garnishes with a Parisian chef. Finally, Rachel visits one of Paris’s finest street markets and encounters Joel Thiebault, the French ‘king of vegetables’. Joel sells to the world’s top chefs and today Rachel is looking for succulent beetroot for her superb lentil and goat’s cheese salad.

Back on the topic of kitchens, if like Rachel you have a small kitchen, or tiny in her case then take note of Channel 4’s 39 Ideas for Small Kitchens or consult with a designer of modern kitchens who can give you advice on everything from Clever Storage solutions, innovative design and space saving bespoke kitchen planning to give you a stunning kitchen on a limited footprint.

About Rachel Khoo and Little Paris Kitchen

Croydon-born food writer Rachel Khoo opens up her pint-sized Paris kitchen to cook up her favourite French dishes, for the penultimate time in this series. Rachel’s straightforward approach to contemporary and classic cuisine proves that making French food can be simple and remain sumptuous. Across six episodes, Rachel introduces us to her style of French food, serving up appetizing meals from luscious lunches to impressive dinners. Rachel also explores the diverse cuisines of Paris, meeting the multi-cultural food vendors, manufacturers and restaurateurs of the French capital. In this enticing episode, Rachel serves the lightest of desserts – iles flottantes – where delicately poached meringues drift on the creamiest vanilla custard.

She samples exquisite Normandy oysters at a stall offering five succulent varieties, then prepares gourmet garnishes with a Parisian chef. Finally, Rachel visits one of Paris’s finest street markets and encounters Joel Thiebault, the French ‘king of vegetables’. Joel sells to the world’s top chefs and today Rachel is looking for succulent beetroot for her superb lentil and goat’s cheese salad.