In the far far away land of dreary old England, an expeditious and intrepid art and design major left her high powered job to pursue her passion for pastry in Paris.
Like me she attended the famed bastion of Le Cordon Bleu Paris only she has managed to fashion her way into a very bright and promising future.
A mere four years after completing Pastry school she is capturing hearts and minds, as well as businesses, across the world with her creativity and design instincts paired perfectly with her sense of taste and cooking skills.
Describing herself as a Food Creative she is that and so much more.
But as I find myself walking towards her tiny apartment for lunch one Wednesday afternoon after months of trying to secure a booking in her unique lunchtime locale I am simply excited and it didn’t take long for my expectations to be exceeded.
Rachel Khoo Rocks – some people just have the great ideas, the skills to pull them off, and the personality that sets them far apart from the rest.
Rachel has all that and more … Guts -and not just in regards to bravery but the inner sense that guides her and makes things work.
I was so lucky to secure a spot at her tiny apartment come invite only restaurant, sharing with another lucky someone a table for three with Rachel Khoo herself – who had lovingly prepared a three course meal for us. Working on her new cookbook she was in need of test subjects and I will always willingly volunteer.
It is a brilliant venture to obtain live and practical feedback, meet new people and make people exceedingly happy whilst drumming up huge amount of buzz and word of mouth – the best type of advertising.
First off, a moreish Autumn Salad with lardon, figs, fresh chestnuts, walnuts and beetroot to tempt even the saddest tastebuds into a celebration.
Second on the line freshly oven roasted Coq au Vin with roasted vegetables and beans to make your heart smile.
Sitting at the small table in her lounge/bedroom/office the day seemed to speed by as we enjoyed mouthfuls of delicious food and the most fascinating conversations not only about food but all the world has to offer.
And finally a long pepper crème brulee with raspberries the perfect way to end an amazing meal.
This city seems to attract these unique individuals here to live the life in this fabled city. Watching her at work in the kitchen was such a pleasure. Using all fresh organic produce, together with a technical eye, the flavours were perfect.
But like everything, even good things must come to an end, and the busy Rachel had literally a mountain of tasks to get done before yet another project in her busy schedule and I hope it stays that way as a measure of her ever evolving success.
I personally can’t wait till one day I receive a special present in the mail post-marked PARIS – a signed copy of her latest cookbook!
Rachel Khoo’s Links:
The Little Paris Kitchen
Her Consulting and Food Styling Business
Let the name say it all – SMOKING HOT DUCK!
Here is a little sneak peak at what I made for myself for dinner last night – one of the best things I have ever eaten and I made it in a tiny terrifying excuse for a kitchen!! (No offense intended to the feelings of my eighty centimetre wide kitchen nook slash cupboard slash sink slash no oven slash old electric hotplate)
Smoked Duck Breast Salad served on Crisp Breads
(Mesculun and Rocket salad with golden shallots, granny smith apple, sour cherries, and roasted hazelnuts served with a luscious sour cherry vinaigrette)
There is no doubt that I have a deep seated weakness for duck, I too often order it if it is on a restaurant’s menu, and when I think of my favourite meals it is often involving the juicy flavourful duck meat and crisp skin.
Whether it be Chinese style Peking Duck, or a Whole Roast Duck, or French Duck á L’Orange or modern interpretations there can be nothing better – well since my experience at Laduree I have a new style to add to my insatiable appetite for duck – thinly sliced Smoked Duck Breast.
I have since had grand plans of buying the equipment required to properly smoke your own meats and fishes at home, but this will have to wait for now, and so I went to my local distributor of duck products – yes in Paris there are shops entirely devoted to the glory of duck related gourmet food products – only in France!
I walked past the rows of every type of foie gras imaginable, and headed straight for the fridge where I was faced by not one but three different types of sliced duck breast and found my holy grail of a sealed packet of artisanal smoked duck breast and so the beginning of a long night of cooking and taste testing began.
I didn’t stop at one dish, no, how could I, I thought of how it could be presented at a more casual gastro pub or café, and also came up with ways to make it into cool canapés.
The funniest thing was that I recorded my findings as if it was a scientific experiment – jotting down notes of each preparation and step. (these are unadulterated except the last comment)
Fine brunoise two shallots, and one large granny smith tart crunchy apple, fine dice of cerise griotte (morello cherries).
EVOO, syrup de griotte, butter, reduce. Add vinegar and lemon juice.
Use dirty pan to warm thru some cherries.
Use dirty pan plus extra oil and butter to cook mix then add a further half apple of brunoise granny smith, use other half for julienned skin on match sticks.
Roasted hazelnuts, halved, some crushed others whole for garnish, mix.
Mixed mesculun lettuce and rocket plus chervil
Mix cooled cherry, apple, shallot mix with salad leaves and the hazelnuts then add extra vinaigrette
Crisp breads made from great bread dried out then fried in olive oil and butter.
Smoked duck taken out of the packet (FOR NOW THAT IS UNTIL MY GRAND SCHEME BECOMES A REALITY AND I WILL HAVE MY OWN SMOKED DUCK!)
I don’t quite know how to describe the tastes and textures and could never really do it justice, so I will leave it to your imaginations, let us just say that I inadvertently ate everything, yes everything, enough for about 3 people to comfortably share. I also know there is a lot more work that needs to go into this dish if it were to ever make it onto any menu or be served at any dinner party but there is definite potential in this space!
I love making others feel special on their birthdays! And despite the many and varied culinary restrictions that are in place living here I can always manage to find a way and the motivation to make something out of nothing for someone that matters.
And so after work one day I started on a little mission… to make something delicious and special. I have this really intense memory of an amazing meal, and so today, I tried to replicate it, but in tune with my vision of food and within the bounds of my resources.
It was a birthday away from family, one that needed the comforts of a warm healthy flavourful meal.
Being summer, and summer vegetables being a favourite, I decided to use them to their best vision.
Yellow and Green Zucchini, Fresh Green Peas, Asparagus, Fresh Sage, French Salted Butter from Normandie, Garlic, French Bread, Gnocci – these were the elements for making someone really happy.
I used a few of my new skills, I bruinoised the zucchinis and asparagus, I made a nut brown butter and sage sauce, handmade crunchy garlic and herb croutons and finished it all off with some lemon juice.
It was so comforting and delicious, paired with a cool glass of white wine, we talked the night away and there was one very happy birthday girl.
Summer Vegetable Gnocchi with Sage and Browned Butter
Ingredients and Methods are available to anyone that asks… or I can just make it for you one day!
A certain someone let the birdy sing that one of my family members has a particular fondness for Tarte Meringue Citron – a Lemon Meringue Tart.
Finally, with a lack of pre-prepared desserts to bring over for dinner, the time and empty stomachs were both available to make this little request come true…
And so I set ahead to the seventeenth arrondissement one Friday afternoon with a goal in mind – to make someone very happy and to have a little fun along the way.
I managed to pipe the meringue using a square plastic ziplock bag and a piping tip… ingenuity when lacking all the equipment to which I have become accustomed.
My first individual project since having started my internship was to be a classic dessert presented in its modern fashion…
I also made a rustic double chocolate tart to satisfy the chocoholics’ cravings but sadly I don’t think it was my greatest hour!
After a weeklong break packed with relaxation and rigor, fun and frustration I headed back to the classroom for the penultimate stage of my pastry education.
It was to be a confused week, here we were, the four of us with three new faces, undertaking what was meant to be the height of French patisserie. We were drawing on all the recipes and techniques we had learnt thus far and trying to take it to an even higher level with precision and perfection both in presentation and flavour thereby achieving overall pastry gold.
Well it was more of an endeavour rather than a clear success. We were certainly a little unsteady in our conviction.
What we in fact produced was wonderful, impressive, full of flavour hits, special… But it seemed to be missing something. At times what was needed was restraint and editing as it was just one step towards excess and over needless complexity; at others it needed a rethink and something more. We needed something new!
I think we had done enough, and our motivation was waning with little encouragement.
Don’t get me wrong… It was great, most of what we produced was spectacular, maybe we have just been spoilt and our standards have become unrealistic and our eyes have been opened too far to the tricks and processes.
It takes a lot to impress us now, and we can see past the veil of beauty to the true ingenuity and quality of a dessert.
We had been through a lot the past month – but this was an intense week, there was a lot of work and we worked very long and hard, a situation which was not helped by a few too many mistakes. The almond meal had been a dismal failure, given a high fat content, and to our dismay we threw away almost 500 macaron shells, then restarted and threw away even more.
Our caramel had failed and we threw away a whole 3 kilograms, before restarting the next day to remake our caramel chocolate tuile.
It just goes to show that no matter how much experience you get pastry is a science and art, as such it is easy to fail, and even the smallest mistake or variable can completely alter your outcome and make it unusable.
As an aside, one day after class, two of the students decided to introduce our talented French Pastry Chef to a simple and fascinating creation at the height of Western pastry – the humble rice crispy treat. (laughter and chiding now accepted…)
What was brilliant and hilarious was that the chef turned a simple process that has no recipe whatsoever into a perfectionistic French art form using all his French know-how to turn the rice-crispy treat into a Gateaux-Croustillant Chocolat Riz and taking copious notes. To see his absolute excitement and joy was amazing. You could see his mind ticking over with the possibilities – not satisfied with the simplicity of the dish he was thinking of all the flavour and texture combinations and was ready to start experimenting with the process and final products.
Whilst he found his partner rice crispy treats we all discovered moulding chocolate and freezing spray, creating weird chocolate trees with macaron fruit.
We discovered the weird and wonderful foie gras and fig chocolate ganache, as well as the horrible sensation liquorice ganache.
What I have to show you does not reflect the ups and downs our week. Despite errors we were still able to produce some spectacular desserts, although sometimes slightly different to the chef’s plans or our expectations.
We made sleek modern cakes with 8 layers, great plated desserts, as well as macarons in all shapes and forms.
We learnt great new presentation styles, very fancy!
Let us start off with one of the desserts I found most exciting; the reason being it was our introduction to my new favourite method to pull out of the pâtissier’s bag of tricks – INVERTED PUFF PASTRY! Now it may sound like a bad magicians parlour trick but in its simplicity lies an arsenal of flavour and texture gold!
The process involves a few interesting ideas and I’d love to say a heartfelt thank you to the Pastry chef that came up with this little number – when making a normal puff pastry one envelops the butter in a detrempe dough. In the case of Inverted Puff pastry, some flour is added to the butter and the detrempe dough is then encased in the butter and rolled out in exactly the same method with three envelope folds and six turns. The rest is history…it still has the same crunchy golden layers, only now it also has the insane property of being short like a sablé and it melts in your mouth after the initial crunch.
In this case the inverted puff pastry was made into a Millefeuille with Praline Mousseline Cream, tempered chocolate plaques and a caramel sauce.
Yet another revelation was the employment of a croustillant layer on top of what already has to be one of my favourite kitchen marvels – the choux! We all individually spied on the master patissiers and their cracked, crunchy layers on top of eclairs throughout the city without knowing yet how to produce such brilliance. Well now we share their secret – an it opens up so many doors!
The Caramel Choux Croustillant were topped with a perfect demi sphere of caramel fondant, filled with caramel mousseline cream and a coffee chantilly cream as well as feuillantine, and sat astride a sablé and chocolate disc.
Who would ever think of making a demi-sphere of lime panacotta with a hidden centre of chocolate mousse, afloat on a sea of vanilla crème, fruit salad and hazelnut meringue inside a sphere of dark-chocolate on a tempered dark chocolate leaf? It is a valid question, but as you can see that is exactly what we produced thus realising the chef’s vision.
Who knows how this 6 layered cake received it’s name during it’s conception – The “Frothy Vanilla Bourbon” did indeed have vanilla, and was composed of two layers of coconut dacquoise with a jelly of black currants and sour cherries with white chocolate ganache and a white chocolate glaze.
The 7 layer cake of Java, the soft chocolate biscuit, a light chocolate cream, a coffee bavaroise, a smooth caramel toffee, crunchy pearls, chocolate ganache and then sprayed with caramel chocolate.
Named after the famed capital of Madagascar and with lots of “nanas” in the Tananarive quite litterally – this monstrous cake with 9 elements would strike the fear into any normal humanbeing – starting with a hazelnut dacquoise, followed by our favourite feuillitine crisp, rum caramelised bananas, dark rich chocolate mousse, lemon crème, more mousse, chocolate ganache, chocolate glaze and a crown of caramelised hazelnuts and a caramel chocolate tuille crown – its an absolute mouthful to describe and a delicious mouthful when consumed.
It was overwhelmingly complex, each layer was delicious alone, and yet together it was still perfectly balanced; Nevertheless it is not something I would make on a daily basis, if ever, however, it is the elements and ideas behind this cake and the many derivatives that are so exciting.
We also made smaller pieces including Caramel Tartlettes – a crisp shortcrust dough, a disc of jaconde sponge, filled with caramel ganache, covered with a caramel chocolate tuile, with a coffee bavaroise dome glazed wuth caramel icing and decorated with tempered chocolate.
Changing their presentation every year – this was the 2011 Tartelette Fruit Rouge – a sable tart filled with a very tart and acidic red fruit marmelade topped with a disc of tempered white chocolate, an almond milk dome with a lemon cloud centre, a red fruit glaze, sprayed with red chocolate, and a macaron tiara with fresh red fruits.
Moving along to the modern and experimental we hit the intersection of sweet and salty with a Foie Gras Macaron – a linzer sablé, tempered chocolate, macaron dipped in dark chocolate filled with a fig, milk chocolate, cream and foie gras ganache served with fresh figs – suprisingly it was delicious with the sweet notes and earthyness of the fig, the smoothness of chocolate, and finished with a subtle richness and fat tones of the foie gras.
Moving back towards the more commonplace we made a vanilla macaron filled with a vanilla and white chocolate ganache and hidden in the centre coffee ganache, on linzer sablé, dipped in chocolate with a baton of hazelnut meringue.
As the chef plated his dessert we watched in shock as he kept adding more and more decoration, he was having such fun!
The Macaron Trees were more of a sculpture than a dessert despite being completely edible I doubt anyone would consume such a thing – its not built for de gout, the flavour, rather for its beauty. Mine at the top is meant to be a fantasy inspired by Dali with macarons literally melting off the weirdly twisted branchess, the chefs below left was fun with loads of pistachio green gravel, and a friends is the marriage of summer and winter.
And at the end of it all, after a three course lunch with matching wines, fully satisfied, we hesitantly returned to the kitchen for what was meant to be a short final burst of work, a glass of champagne and degustation of our Haute Creations.
This short burst became a further 4 hour long hall as we finally exited the establishment at 7:30pm!
We toasted our glasses of champange to our collective successes as we all graduated from Treizeme de Haute Patisserie… next for us budding pastry buffs – the stagiaire, or internship, in the Pastry Kitchens of the Ritz Hotel!
This is just an interlude… a quick recovery from the length of my previous ramblings.
You all know I love mushrooms, and so I wanted to spoil my family and friend with a very special meal straight from the forests of rural France – it was the last of the Mushroom season, expensive and not truly at their best, but incredibly delicious in any sense of the word.
Mushrooms provide an earthy, flavourful tone as well as a meaty texture – and I wanted to highlight these qualities in a simple dish.
And so simply sauteed in garlic, extra virgin olive oil and well seasoned with salt and black pepper this was light, fresh and full of flavour.
Voilà Donc, Donc Voilà – ce n’est les Pâtes aux Champignons Sauvages!
I don’t think any of us much cared for this particular module when compared to some of the spectacular things we have achieved during this whirlwind month.
How could jam possibly compare to entrements or a plated dessert?
Well for two and a half days we focused on making jams, fruit jellies, caramels, nougat, marshmallows and confit fruits.
Now writing about our experiences it sounds as if I am being unfairly unsupportive but it really was so simple when compared to what we had already achieved.
To the credit of our chefs, the nougat we made was absolutely delicious, the marshmallows had a greet flavour and texture but most importantly weren’t overly sweet, and the jams constitute an invaluable skill!
We were all exhausted by this point having just completed our exams and so we were more interested in discussing other topics and asked lots of great questions from the chefs.
We had a long lecture on the history of sugar and how it was intertwined as usual with war and civilisation itself. Only this time the death of Alexander the Great and the crusades played a huge part instead of just the discovery of the Caribbean and Central America!
We played with cooked sugar at it’s wide range of cooking temperatures making the honey nougat and jams and pate de fruit.
We also made raw almond paste and marzipan of varied colours together with pralines of all sorts including hazelnut, almond and my favourite mixed.
Macaron were just second hand nature and to see how fast we produced this huge selection was really special.
Making fondant from scratch was extremely simple yet such intensive work, as such it was revolutionary but will likely never happen again.
The thermometers played a huge role in this module and we also had a little fun with the pectin and citric acid!
But by Friday afternoon we all felt like a manufacturing line having to hand-wrap hundreds of soft caramels and exotic passionfruit caramels in individual wrappers, as well as package hundreds of marshmallows and nougats.
The highlight of our module was an unexpected delight – an unforgettable experience. The chef organised a little detour with a very specific task. There was a huge junket in the Ritz for the French Press as an advertising drive for the school. They were treated with tours, cooking demonstrations, gift bags and a lunch on the terrace.
But dessert was truly special – having been conceived by Chef Didier, prepared together with the class, and assembled by us à la minute in the terrace kitchen before being taken by the waiting staff to the waiting guests.
It was brilliant – so simple, so full of the best flavours and textures – a hazelnut meringue, strawberry jelly, tart strawberry gelato and champagne emulsion – so light and summery!
We worked like a united force and it all went smoothly, for our first, professional ’employment’.
So for your perusal, here is the selection of candies and confitures now available at my modern Candy Store.
Confit Pink Grapfruit and Orange Rind – for your candied pleasure
Fruit Jellies – Passionfruit, Mango, Raspberry and Blackcurrant
Nougat Blanc with Honey, Roasted Hazelnuts, Almonds and Pistachios
Chewy Caramels with Roast Almonds
Soft Exotic Caramels with Passionfruit and Mango Puree
Confitures including freshly made Strawberry and Blueberry, Raspberry and Pineapple ‘Bachelor’ Jam with rum steeped raisins and vanilla
And don’t forget the almond marzipan, praline pastes and macaron….
And so finally at 5pm after a month of intensive Advanced French Pastry when the champagne was popped and we all toasted passing our course and our success in the exam.
Sadly two will be leaving us and not joining in on the third level.
Whilst I’m going on holiday for a week the others are all doing boulangerie and vieronesserie.
But four of us are ready and waiting for the intensive week of Perfection in French Pastry.