Join chef Rachel Khoo as she takes us on a journey through her life in food. From baking wonky gingerbread people with her mum to watching her grandma make flaky apple strudel with lashings of vanilla custard, the way Rachel talks about food is wonderfully sensory and comforting. She discusses the art of the gathering, food being a way of creating connection and reminds us that cooking isn’t always about getting it perfect. There’s pleasure to be found in the process, no matter how simple.
Tell us about your favourite food memory from your childhood...
Making gingerbread people with a friend from primary school and my mum. The eyes and mouths were wonky but they tasted delicious!
What is your advice to busy home cooks who find preparing food stressful?
Take it easy! You're not competing for Masterchef. Use ingredients in season (they will taste the best) and pick out short easy recipes. Also freezer ingredients are a great shortcut (pre-cut frozen veg and fruit for easy soups, stews and crumbles).
Tell us about one of your cooking rituals at home...
I don't really have any rituals per se when it comes to cooking. It's usually how quickly I can get food on the table before my kids cause chaos.
What’s your favourite thing about having friends and family round for dinner?
Sharing a moment together. The food is really secondary. For me the human connection is more important. If you haven't seen Priya Parker's TED talk about gatherings I highly recommend it.
Tell us about one of the most memorable meals someone important in your life has cooked for you...
Watching my Austrian grandma make her own strudel pastry at her kitchen table and then creating the most delicious flaky buttery apple strudel. I would eat it with lashings of thick vanilla custard.
Taste that most makes you think of home:
I've had so many different homes (I've lived in the UK, Germany, Austria, France and now Sweden. My father is also from Malaysia) so for now I would say Swedish knäckebröd, preferably the rustic rye sourdough ones that are a bit gnarly and bumpy (rather than the perfect cardboard rectangle ones). Slathered in salty butter of course!
Favourite song to cook to:
How to pick just one? At the moment I have Stromae's new single, L'enfer on repeat. His lyrics are so poetic and profound but the beats are great too.
You have friends coming round for an impromptu dinner, what do you cook?
Depends on who is coming, the season and what I have in the fridge. But it's always something simple and that is easily adaptable for vegans, gluten free etc. Tacos are my go to with loads of crunchy vibrant veg, pink pickled onions, creamy guacamole and spicy roasted mushrooms.
Your proudest career moment to date:
Too many to date but becoming an ambassador for Women's Aid last year. Women's Aid is a UK based charity who do vital work helping women and children in domestic abuse situations. I've been doing 16 minute instagram live cookalong fundraisers every Monday for the past 3 months to highlight the 1.6 million women who reported abuse in 2020. (If you have the means, please donate here.)
Comfort food for getting through winter:
Hot buttered sourdough toast with a perfect soft boiled egg and a sprinkle of yuzu shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice chilli powder).
The ingredient you’re most looking forward to incorporating into your dishes this season:
The spring cabbages, cut into wedges and roasted in the oven with butter and sprinkle of salt or dressed in a zingy vinaigrette or as crunchy coleslaw.
Follow Rache: @rachelkhooks
Photographs by Matt Gormly