“Nothing here is styled”
By now, you’ll have had the perfect life of Rachel Khoo rammed down your throat by the BBC. Fancying herself as Croydon’s greatest export since Kate Moss, she uses her TV show and new book to swan around her home of Paris on her bicycle, buying baguettes, drinking coffee, probably having winsome affairs with existential poets she happens to meet on the Montmartre. She so carefully and contrivedly markets her slice of the good life that she makes Amelie look like she should star in her own ITV2 show When French Bitches Go Bad.
But I’ve seen One Day. I know you can go to Paris a disillusioned teacher and emerge as a best selling author. Perhaps this former nanny really had become a domestic goddess, and her carefully-styled floral dresses and cutesy kitchen (“Nothing here is styled,” she claimed disingenuously to a journalist recently) really were part of a perfect life. And with my parents meeting my boyfriend’s parents for the very first time, I needed all the help I could get.
Of course, I knew they’d get on. Parents have an endless capacity to talk about gardening, and what plays they’ve seen lately, and when they’re planning to retire. There are so many pleasantries to exchange that there need never be a quiet moment with parents around – they’ll talk about anything so long as to avoid the blatant fact that the their respective sons get naked with each other.
“This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” I rounded on my poor boyfriend, as the dessert, which I was making first, with two hours before arrival of the guests, became apparent it was going to be a lumpy mess. “Who cares if our parents ever met, why does it even matter?” “I thought it would be nice,” he replied lamely, staring at the brown sludge which was meant to be a light, fluffy mousse. “Stick it in the fridge, perhaps it will look better once chilled?”
My parents arrived just as I was putting the main course in the oven, his parents were moments later. The dads stood on the balcony and discussed all the London landmarks which could be seen across the skyline, the mums stood in the kitchen and talked about films they’d seen at the cinema. “I thought The Artist was ten minutes too long,” said his mother. “Oh, we loved it,” replied mine, and so on.
Meanwhile, I was slicing up the pears and potatoes thinly for Rachel Khoo’s Potato and Pear Gallette. “Is everything ok?” Will asked, putting his hand on my hunched shoulder. “Don’t talk to me,” I hissed, shrugging him off. “Take my dad out that coffee. For God’s sake.” You can see why he wants me to move in.
Rachel’s Potato and Pear Gallette with Roquefort
But actually, there was no need for much stress – all the gallette required was to place raw slices of potato in the oven with chunks of pear and cheese crumbled over the top. “This is a slightly more sophisticated French homage to my humble childhood favourite of baked potato and melted cheese,” Khoo blithers in what you imagine she thinks is an adorable way. Perfect for an informal but impressive lunch then, you’d suppose.
My version. And hers wasn’t styled, apparently
As the first forkfuls were eaten, silence fell for the only moment so far. “I’d give this one five out of ten,” my mother in law eventually said, diplomatically. “Perhaps the potatoes could have done with a touch more in the oven,” my own mother ventured, with tact. She wasn’t wrong. Almost raw wedges of potato, it turns out, is edible – just – but not enjoyable. “I think the flavours might need a little bit of something,” said Will’s dad. “Yes, but it was a very light starter and I don’t feel too full, which can sometimes happen with these things,” Will said optimistically, demonstrating his ability to find the silver lining in every cloud, and one of the reasons I love him.
Rachel’s Duck a l’Orangina
Khoo’s Duck a l’Orangina was more successful in that the duck, which had marinated over night, was perfectly cooked and full of a lightly spiced flavour. However her Orangina sauce, which could only have been easier if it had been poured from a jar, essentially bubbled away into nothing. Duck a l’Orange is covered in a gooey marmalade-y jus.
And mine. The sauce you can see was actually fat from the roasting pan, desperate as I was for something to drip over it
This was like eating cooked meat without any condiments – nicely flavoured but missing that vital last kick. “Well, the meat is very tender, much better than the starter,” said my dad, appreciatively, as the polite conversation about his new job faltered for a moment.
Khoo’s Chocolate Mousses
It was time for the dreaded dessert. Khoo’s Chocolate Mousse had sounded fiddly – and with every stage there was more possibility to go wrong. Her crème patissiere (one component of the mousse) was lumpier than a bowl of sugar cubes. “Give it a whisk with a fork to break make sure it is smooth”, her recipe had advised, but it was like stroking a vat of hardened cement with a feather. When I eventually managed to combine it with the cream and meringue it took on the texture of school custard, so I covered it with nuts like she recommended and consigned it to the dustbin of TV “chef” recipes – all style, but the only substance coming from the nobs of chocolate-y cornflour in her dessert.
“This has a lovely texture,” Will’s dad said, incredibly, dousing his mousse in cream. “Yes, the lumpy bits are real chocolate!” I lied, taking another swig of wine. It did taste good, if you pretended to yourself you weren’t chewing on dry powdery lumps, that perhaps they were stray nuts from the topping, or real bits of Green and Blacks. “Yes, well done,” everyone else chimed in. “A delicious way to end dinner.” It was fundamentally a sham, of course, but I had just about managed to pull it off. Any parallels between that and Khoo’s Parisian perfection are merely coincidental.
Cost of ingredients: £25.47 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Main course **
Dessert * (unless you pretend it was meant to be like that, in which case it tasted good enough to get a charitable * * * *)
Overall 1/10 Well, she’s nice to look at.
The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo, published by Michael Joseph. Original photography by David Loftus