“Everybody’s coming back to good cooking – it’s like magic. Take a few ingredients, mix, chop and stir. I find it magical how food can bring joy and pleasure. It’s very satisfying.”
Writer, broadcaster and chef Rachel Khoo knows how important preparing, cooking, baking and enjoying food is during the current pandemic – and its power to help bring family together and boost wellbeing.
With the outbreak of coronavirus, Rachel headed to her in-law’s family home in Sweden where she cooked up a brand new concept for a TV series. Filmed entirely in lockdown, Rachel Khoo’s Simple Pleasures is a story of family and the joy of cooking, featuring delicious, accessible recipes that rekindle a love affair with home cooking.
“We filmed Simple Pleasures in isolation and it really is the middle-of-nowhere,” says Rachel. “It’s actually the perfect place for a Scandi thriller; just lakes and forests.”
All of which meant that Rachel had to get creative with bringing the TV series to life, which took less than four weeks from pitch to turn it around – and involved plenty of inventiveness.
“It was pretty much me trying to do everything,” she recalls. “I tried my hand at sewing, set design, building props. I used my son’s IKEA foam playmat and duvet to build a sound studio. The director had to work over Skype, but we made it happen!”
The result is a cooking series that puts food, simple solutions and healthy eating back in the heart of the home.
“It’s about enjoying those simple pleasures. There’s a real joy in food – from growing things in the garden to pummelling dough when making bread. I really wanted to have recipes that are accessible, where you can switch around ingredients because food can be very forgiving,” she says.
It’s also about being inventive, especially when faced with a larder of familiar food and restrictions on shopping or visiting markets during lockdown.
“I used baking powder in bread as we didn’t have yeast. One of my favourites is pan-fried dumplings, which uses leftovers. It uses leftover meat, such as bacon, veg and uses dough to make a wrapper then it is cooked in an Asian way, so they are fried, then steamed and doused in chili sauce.”
“You need to be mindful of what you have the in fridge – Simple Pleasures is also about not wanting to waste food and the energy that has gone into creating it,” she explains.
A back-to-basics approach to baking and cooking also helps families get out of a food rut, hopes Rachel.
“We are so fortunate and have an amazing amount of information you can Google or discover in Instagram,” she says. “I often get in a rut, especially with small kids. I know they love fish fingers so I do them once a week – they’re a real crowd please and a winner. You don’t need to go crazy, but try something new each week.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. There shouldn’t be any stress, and you’re not doing this for a food critic and there’s always going to be another meal,” she adds.
Rachel Khoo’s Simple Pleasures, she hopes, is more than a series of dishes and inspiring recipes.
“It really is about finding the pleasure in cooking, and not stressing about it. It’s what I love about cooking and the satisfaction. It’s the reason I got into food in that it brings huge pleasure to others.”
Rachel Khoo’s Simple Pleasures premieres on July 2 at 9pm exclusively on Food Network.