Sweet escapism

It Started With A Bean – Rachel Khoo with her Banana Split dish.

Celebrity chef and author Rachel Khoo told David Hennessy about her new chocolate flavoured TV series, why she loves Dingle and why savoury red wine might (not) become a thing.

“I think the new year’s resolution should be eat more chocolate but eat better chocolate,” celebrity chef and author Rachel Khoo tells The Irish World.

Rachel, well known for shows like The Little Paris Kitchen: Cook with Rachel Khoo, and Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen as well as her cook books, brings Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate to discovery+ this January.

The new show sees Rachel making classic and unexpected dishes with chocolate and exploring the science behind why its everyone favourite. She travels to learn all about chocolate’s journey and takes inspiration from the chocolatiers of Europe.

“What I really wanted to show in this series is there’s an amazing renaissance in chocolate-making in the UK. I really wanted to show people all the work and attention to detail that goes in to chocolate-making which is almost like making a fine wine.

“You taste different notes because the cocoa beans, depending on which place they’ve come from, whether it’s from Ecuador or Venezuela or Indonesia, will have different flavours.

Chocolate Loves Flavour – Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate candied citrus slices and cocktails.

“You could go on a real chocolate journey. We can’t travel at the moment but you could go round the world with these different chocolate beans. If you’re going to do a new year’s resolution, that would be mine.”

Over twelve episodes, Rachel delves into the chocolate world meeting some of the best chocolatiers in Europe who reveal the secrets of how to use the ingredient and create stylish, mouth-watering recipes at home.

“I really pushed myself in terms of recipes. It’s not just sweet recipes. I wanted to show people you can actually use cocoa like spice and really rethink about how you use chocolate.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t go to Mexico but in Mexican cuisine they use cocoa in savory foods and so I took great inspiration from that culture to really play with it and show people some fun ways of just pushing yourself to try something different.

Chocolate Loves Flavour – Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate candied citrus slices and cocktails.

“Before I did this series, I had never actually seen a cocoa pod or plant in real life. We went to The International Cocoa Quarantine Centre at the University of Reading where they research diseases which happen to cocoa plants. I got to discover what they’re doing, how it’s helping cocoa farmers around the world to stop diseases and actually see a plant, take a pod off the tree.

I opened it and I actually tasted some of the cocoa pulp which is on the outside of the cocoa nib- the bit you actually use.

“That cocoa pulp, usually it’s a waste product but there’s a lady in Amsterdam who has developed that into a juice which is being used in cocktails. It’s really interesting how even today when you think everything’s been done with cocoa, there is actually something innovative happening in the cocoa industry and also addressing how to minimise waste which I thought was really exciting.

Chocolate Loves Flavour – Rachel Khoo with her Penne dish.

“And it’s delicious. It’s sweet, almost lychee- like in flavour so really different to the actual cocoa itself.”
In the show Rachel creates sumptuous desserts, breath-taking pastries and cakes and even savory dishes to show the versatility of chocolate.

“It was already a brilliant series to work before the whole (Covid) situation happened but to be working on it with the current climate, I just think it’s just a bit of escapism. People want something warm and joyful and just to switch off. You don’t have to worry about anything.

“Pop on the sofa, get cosy, have a nice hot chocolate or your favourite chocolate bar and just learn something new about the whole chocolate world.

“Because everybody thinks they know everything about chocolate. What I really love about this series is we don’t just explore the deliciousness of chocolate and why we love it so much but also the cultural aspect, historical aspect, psychological aspect.

“You’ll know everything about chocolate afterwards.”

Something For Everyone – Rachel Khoo’s Mocha.

Rachel was first preparing to film the series before the UK first went into lockdown and tells us how grateful she is to have got it over the line in a safe way.

“I feel very blessed to be working. That’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m like, ‘See the positive, try not to see the negatives’. Just take every day as it comes, I think

“I am so grateful to be healthy, to be working so I feel very blessed to have done the show and also, I worked with some fantastic people.

“It’s been amazing working with the production company just finding solutions and really being creative and just keeping it up and running because it’s a lot of people’s livelihoods.

“Behind the camera are so many people who worked so hard to make sure we did a Covid-safe production. We managed to film. It was very difficult. We originally had all these plans and obviously it kept on changing with the situation. We kept having to change and re-jiggle. We had to be super flexible and nimble on our feet.

“Also, I’m so, so lucky. I got to eat these amazing chocolates. I put on three kilos pre-Christmas,” she laughs. “Not a good thing.

“And lots of the places I visit in the series are really small businesses who are suffering enormously in the current situation so it’s been great just to be able to highlight them and really shout about them because they’re doing amazing things.”

Something For Everyone – Rachel Khoo with her Mocha.

The restaurant business has also been hit hard by the pandemic.

“It is devastating. What I say is, if you can afford it, some of these restaurants are doing amazing cook at home kits or you can buy vouchers for when they do reopen so every small gesture you can do really helps so if you can, it makes such a difference.”

Rachel has visited Ireland several times and speaks enthusiastically about a summer she spent in Dingle years ago.

“I have a few good friends who are from Ireland and I spent a summer in Dingle. I worked at a gallery. Didn’t spot the dolphin. It was so much fun because one of my close friends who is from Dingle said, ‘Come for the summer. You can work for my mum’. And it was real, as you say, craic.

“It was just so warm and everybody was so kind. It was such a lovely place to spend the summer.

“I loved the local ice cream shop.

“They also had a cinema night and there was this old guy. He would talk about the movie to explain a little bit and he had a little stand with a tin can and a light bulb. You know the search lights? He had made his own.

Something For Everyone – Rachel Khoo with her Chocolate Cookies.

“I mean there were lots of other things I really loved about it but I remember the ice cream. Who wouldn’t, being a food person? The cinema night just because of that old guy really passionate about movies.

“I’ve been to Dublin a couple of times. There’s always a little connection. It’s amazing. The Irish are everywhere.”
Born in South London to Malaysian-Chinese and Austrian parents, Rachel has been based in North West London for a time.

Perfectly Paired – Rachel Khoo with her Chocolate-Roasted Beetroot Salad.

“I did have a place in Kensal Green. I love that kind of area. It used to be quite Irish. I don’t think it is so much because it shifted a little bit but it’s interesting how different communities move around London.”

Rachel is good friends with well known Irish chef Donal Skehan who she has a lot of admiration for.

“Because I live in Sweden I used to catch him on Swedish breakfast television talking Swedish. It was really brilliant, Hats off to him doing TV in Swedish. I’ve done it once. I don’t know how he did it. I’m so impressed.

Perfectly Paired – Rachel Khoo with her Chocolate-Roasted Beetroot Salad.

“Donal’s amazing. He has so much energy and all his recipes always look so stunning and really accessible so I love the way he cooks.”

She makes it look easy when she is cooking on television but has Rachel ever had any culinary disasters? “We have a lot of disasters, they just don’t end up in the show.

“I remember when I was filming another series and we were doing a red wine stew. I’m cooking, I start adding the red wine and I’m talking. Before I know it, I’ve emptied the whole bottle of red wine instead of a glass. The whole bottle went in. It was more like drinking wine than eating a stew. I don’t know. Savory red wine. Maybe it’s going to become a thing.”

Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate is available to stream now, exclusively on discovery+

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