Only hawker food for TV cook Rachel Khoo

Rachel Khoo.
Rachel Khoo.PHOTO: FREEMANTLEMEDIA LTD 2015

Forget fine dining. Satay and rojak are among the favourite food of television cook Rachel Khoo when it comes to Singapore

8Q

Singapore has seen a number of top fine-dining restaurants open in the past few years, but for British television cook Rachel Khoo, this country is all about hawker food.

"I just went to Chomp Chomp Food Centre and that was really good fun. That's the type of place I like going to - plastic chairs, it's easygoing, you can smell all the flavours in the air and everyone's just shouting at you to try this and that," says the 35-year-old at a recent interview.

"Singapore has many amazing fine-dining restaurants, but for me, all I want is hawker food when I come here. Barbecue stingray, satay and rojak are my favourites and I'm trying to fit in assam laksa in my tight schedule."

Khoo has travelled here "many times" over the years to visit a cousin who lives here. She was in town recently to promote her latest TV cooking series Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook: Melbourne, which has her travelling through the Australian city and discovering new recipes.

Much like her TV endeavours, the show sees her using locally sourced ingredients to create new dishes inspired by her heritage - her mother is Austrian and her father Malaysian-Chinese.

The Melbourne show is the Australian spin-off of her Kitchen Notebook: London (2014) series, which was shot in her hometown and base in London, England.

Before that, she had helmed her break-out show The Little Paris Kitchen (2012), in which she introduced viewers to Parisian street markets and cooked out of her 28 sq m kitchen in her apartment in the city.

The TV series was adapted from her best-selling 2012 cookbook of the same name, which has sold more than 120,000 copies.

Her familiarity with the city after having lived there for eight years - she has a pastry degree from Le Cordon Bleu and worked in local bakeries there - plus her down- to-earth charm won her many fans in Britain when the show premiered there, drawing more than 1.5 million viewers.

Will she be hosting a similar cooking show in Asia in the near future?

Khoo, who got married last year, says excitedly: "Oh, I'm just waiting for the call to do it. I love coming to Asia and Asian cuisine is a huge part of my culinary heritage. There are so many flavours and spices in Asia that are familiar to me so, yes, I certainly hope so."

1 After filming your new show in Melbourne for two months, what did you learn about the city?

I always knew Melbourne was a very multicultural city, but I was still surprised by how large some of the communities were, such as the Greek community.

And the Asian community there is huge too, which was great. I had some fantastic Sichuan food there.

2 You have a knack for whipping up elaborate-looking dishes in tiny spaces. What is the secret?

It's about knowing what instruments you need and sticking to that. Just one good wok is enough to create some amazing flavours. I am into pastries and, for the longest time, I worked with only a tiny toaster oven.

More importantly, it is to get the best quality ingredients when you cook because if you do, then the ingredients will be packed with flavour and they will do the work for you.

3 Do you have any plans to work in a restaurant? No. I have the best gig right now - why would I give that up?

I prefer to do different things. I like to travel and try new recipes.

I've worked at restaurants before, as a private chef and also in consulting, so I know what it entails. Things get repetitive very quickly because you have to make something like 200 of the same cupcakes every day.

4 Your recipes are known to be very accessible because you modify certain classic dishes such as the coq au vin. Do you think that takes away from the original dishes?

I did receive a few raised eyebrows for my coq au vin cooked on a skewer with a red wine dipping sauce, but anyone who tasted it loved it.

It was authentic but with a lighthearted twist.

For me, cooking is all about having fun and just being creative in creating food and sharing that with the people you love.

I'm not too serious about food in that way.

5 Do you think it is possible for anyone to cook well?

I think so - people just have to take that step to try it.

Many people feel intimidated by cooking, but I say go for it.

I think people tend to treat cooking as a luxury because they think it's very time-consuming, but I see it as a way to do something good for yourself because you know exactly what goes into your food.

6 You're British and British cuisine tends to have a bad reputation for being boring. What do you think about that?

I always feel bad for the Brits, especially when I lived in Paris. People there said to me, 'Oh, the English - they know only roast beef.' But I think the scene has changed so much in Britain because the food culture is so diverse now.

Obviously, it's also hard to compete with France because it has all these lovely local markets with amazing produce that is still affordable.

In Britain, farmer's markets tend to be very expensive.

7 You are known for your retro sense of style, such as pairing a bold red lip with bright 1950s frocks. Where do you get your clothes from?

From a mix of high-street shops such as Topshop and Marks & Spencer, online shopping outlets and second-hand shops.

I'm attracted to bold colours because I like to think about the visuals on TV and these kinds of colours work for me and look good onscreen. My lipsticks are Cherry Lush by Tom Ford and Russian Red by M.A.C.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As a nice person - someone who is approachable, fresh and fun.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook: Melbourne will air on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub TV Channel 432) on Wednesday at 11.20pm, starting May 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Only hawker food for TV cook'. Print Edition | Subscribe