Little bite of Paris
Rachel Khoo

She's young, attractive and sassy and is the latest craze in the TV-chef phenomenon foodie world.

Rachel Khoo, 31, has won the hearts of the Brits (or rather, more than 1.5 million viewers) and has become an adopted French identity in her own right, cooking from her pocket-sized Parisian apartment while effortlessly donning an assortment of vintage frocks and peppering her relaxed chatter with pitch-perfect French.

In her new series and book, The Little Paris Kitchen, Khoo, who gets her exotic looks from her Malay-Chinese father and Austrian mother, is determined to prove that French cooking needn't be complicated or intimidating, but rather accessible to everyone, no matter where they live or how basic their kitchen might be.

Fully extending her arms across the width of the room, Khoo, who stands at just 157cm, proves exactly how minuscule her kitchen is.

Her fingertips just touch each opposing wall and the length of the room is roughly the same. She has just two gas rings and a dinky toaster-oven and walls overflow with pots, pans and utensils so high up she needs a stepladder to get to them.

Accommodating a film crew is a logistical challenge in itself but one that works beautifully as viewers enjoy a sense of just how cosy and chaotically organised her work space really is.

Khoo moved to the French capital in 2006 armed with a passion for p√Ętisserie. The Central St Martins College of Art and Design graduate packed in her London job in fashion PR and, unable to speak an ounce of French and with ¬£600 ($940) in her pocket, enrolled herself into La Sorbonne to learn the language, got a job as an au pair with a Parisian family, worked odd jobs at department stores and signed up to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, graduating in 2010.

She then worked at the endearing culinary bookshop and tea salon, La Cocotte, where she catered to book launches and hosted cookery classes.

This coincided with her decision to open Paris' smallest underground, or as Khoo calls it "pop-up", restaurant called La Petite Cuisine a Paris (The Little Paris Kitchen).

Taking just two diners per sitting (that's after rolling away the Futon), the venue was indeed her quirky 21sqm studio apartment in the Belleville district - an ingenious idea and one which gave Khoo the confidence to trial her food on the discerning Parisian palate and provide the framework for her book without wasting food.

"It's always really flattering when Parisians like my French food," a modest Khoo says in series one.

"The hardest people I cook for are chefs. They're really difficult, especially French chefs. When I say I cook professionally, they don't believe that I can cook professionally.

"They say, like, 'You're English, you can't cook.' But then when I explain to them that I've trained in Paris, that I've studied at a culinary school, that I studied the French patisserie - then they soften up because it's 'French' patisserie."

Her best-selling book is an extension of her passion for simple and unpretentious French cooking, inspired by the French bistro scene and "the way Parisians cook at home," says Khoo, whose recipes adopt a refreshingly modern makeover that is uniquely her own.

"I think there's still this kind of cliche of French food where you think it's complicated - my cooking is no-fuss - just enjoyable."

My Little Paris Kitchen is not another run-of-the-mill French cookery bible. It's the story of how Khoo discovers the French classics in daily life and she clearly revels in the Parisian tradition of supporting her local providores.

"There are fresh food markets in every neigbourhood and you still can go to these little shops which are specialised . . . you know . . . the cheesemonger, the fishmonger and you have a personal relationship and they pass on their passion and you learn things.

"Everyone has a point of view on food."

The West Australian

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