Life, love and meatballs
Rachel Khoo falls for Sweden Matt Preston on food machines
It’s the home of Abba and Pippi Longstocking and Spotify and meatballs and herring and, of course, Ikea. It’s also now the home of Rachel Khoo, the British cook who turned her little Paris kitchen into a hit book and TV show. Now she has followed her heart to Sweden.And she’s loving it.
“I married a Swede. Not a vegetable kind! That’s how I ended up in Sweden – it’s as simple as that,” Khoo says down the line from Stockholm where she’s lived for the past couple of years with her husband, Robert Wiktorin.
“I’ve always been one to embrace living in different countries. I’d moved back to London from Paris and thought, let’s give it a go. It’s humbling moving to another country.You start from zero,you don’t understand people. I speak Swedish like a two-year-old, but I give it a try.”
It’s the slower pace of life in a city with a tenth of the population of London that especially appeals to Khoo,who now has an 18-month-old child in tow.
“I definitely feel this place is right for me now. It’s a society where loads of dads pick up the kids from school or are in the playground during the day because they’re on parental leave.To see that balanced approach is great,” she says.
“I love London and I love Paris, but sometimes the pace – you can’t keep up. In Stockholm, people are much more laid-back; they’re super-friendly.”
Taking things slower is a change for Khoo,whose life had been a whirlwind of cookbooks and TV series since The
Little Paris Kitchen was first published in 2012, including filming Rachel Khoo’s
Kitchen Notebook in Melbourne and cohosting Zumbo’s Just Desserts in Sydney.
“For a good while I was in Australia more than anywhere else, and I was thinking of moving there at one point,” she says. “I think my mum’s so happy I found a Swedish man because Australia is a long way from her in Austria.”
Born in South London to a ChineseMalaysian father and Austrian mother, Khoo, 37, lived in Germany as a teen and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art and design from London’s prestigious Saint Martin’s College in her 20s before moving to Paris on a whim to transform a passion for pâtisserie into a diploma of pastry from Le Cordon Bleu school.
Turning the kitchen in her apartment into the smallest restaurant in Paris, seating just two (La Petite Cuisine à Paris), Khoo honed the recipes that would appear in her book The Little
Paris Kitchen.And it’s an exploration of her new home that Khoo captures in her latest, The Little Swedish Kitchen, sharing her favourite discoveries, from classics – yes, there’s a recipe for the famous
köttbullar or meatballs – to her own take on local dishes. With a fleeting summer and a seemingly endless winter, the seasons play a defining role in Swedish cuisine – pickling, curing and smoking extend the short growing seasons – while traditional cuisine makes the most of the limited available produce.
“If you don’t have a wide variety you need to be creative with the things you do.The traditional food – most likely you’d have the ingredients in your cupboard. I think there’s something very modern about approaching food with that mentality – okay, I don’t have a wide variety of produce, but I can still make something delicious,” she says. “You have to find a simple way of cooking. That’s an approach I have enjoyed.”
The tradition of fika – a break with coffee and cake or pastry – is another part of Swedish life Khoo has embraced with gusto.
“They love their cinnamon and cardamom buns.You go into any bakery and the smell hits you. I had this bun the other day – imagine a brioche doughnut that’s heavily scented with cardamom. When you buy it, they fill it up with this really light, fluffy vanilla cream, so much that it’s bursting at the seams when you bite into it. It’s absolutely delicious.”
Taking the time to enjoy such simple pleasures – a bun with coffee, a bike ride by the water, picking summer berries in the forest – is something Khoo says the Swedes definitely get right.
“You’re encouraged to take a lunch break, to get out and enjoy nature. One of my favourite things to do in summer is to pick berries – lingonberries, forest strawberries, blueberries, cloudberries, wild raspberries. It’s a lot of work, but it’s such a joyful experience,” she says.
“You appreciate the seasons more when the winters are so long. But that’s what I love about Swedish culture – it doesn’t matter what’s happening, they embrace it and make the most of it.”
Having a keen appreciation of the seasons is something Khoo also learnt from chef Magnus Nilsson when she did a two-week stint in his Fäviken kitchen. At the famously remote restaurant – it takes a plane, a train and car to reach the 8000-hectare estate 750 kilometres from Stockholm – Nilsson serves modern Nordic fare that’s from the surrounding land to just 16 guests a night.
“It was the connection to nature there in the middle of nowhere that made it such a unique experience,” says Khoo. “He had so much respect for each ingredient. It didn’t matter whether it was a piece of meat or some carrots they’d grown.”
While peripatetic Khoo is happy calling Sweden home for now, don’t be surprised if there’s another instalment in her Little Kitchen cookbook series down the track.
“Obviously it’s not just me now, it’s a family decision [but] I’m always one to embrace new things,” she says. “Life is an adventure. I think you only get one go, so if life throws you something exciting and it’s the right thing, why not go for it?”