Monday 18 December 2017

What Rachel did next...

Chef Rachel Allen wants more people to cook at home, and to share their culinary successes

The range in question is a new collaboration between the celebrity cook and the famous chocolatier, currently available exclusively in Irish airports.

The glamorous blonde presenter also has her finger in several other pies, if you'll excuse the pun. And high on the current list of priorities is the publication of her latest cookbook Entertaining At Home. As the name suggests, it features a range of recipes for everyone from the casual bottle-of-wine-and-nibbles host to those who roll out the good crockery for a formal dinner party.

Recessionary measures are forcing increasing numbers of people to entertain at home, so Rachel's book is enjoying a timely arrival to the market.

"I think I was aware of hugely increasing numbers of people entertaining at home," she remarks, "but it happened slightly more organically than that. Luckily, the timing is quite good."

She then hurriedly adds an addendum, pointing out: "I still do say that people should eat out sometimes because restaurants have to survive, too!"

So where does Cork-based Rachel like to dine on her frequent trips to our nation's capital? She sighs, ruefully admitting: "Dublin is one place where I don't get to eat out often. When I'm working there I often just go up and back home in the one day or else, if I stay, I'm hanging out with my parents."

With Dublin bursting at the seams with chefs looking to make a little noise, there's no shortage of kitchens manned by famous faces. Perhaps it is a sign of diplomacy, but Rachel manages to name-check nearly all of them, musing: "I'd love to check out what Kevin Thornton is doing now, and I'd love to try Conrad Gallagher's restaurant, and Pichet and Dylan McGrath's Rustic Stone."

Of course, her successful TV series attract viewers who might never darken the door of a restaurant if they could emulate Rachel's skills in the kitchen. Much of her work, and filming, takes place in the kitchen of the family home in Cork, where she lives with her husband and business partner, Isaac, and their three children Luka, Joshua and Scarlett. Working from home might sound like the dream job, and it's one for which Rachel claims she's extremely grateful. Then again, isn't it a classic recipe for allowing work to follow you home?

She laughs, admitting: "Yes, sometimes I think it would be great to be able to close the door and leave. It's really great that I can be there when the boys come in from school, but the kitchen table tends to be the office part and at the end of the day I need to clear that. I'll have to get an office but that will be a job for next year."

In the meantime, she's preparing for the launch of a new iPhone app that will feature 66 recipes, accompanied by video tips, an interactive shopping list and an all-important clap control to allow cooks with flour-covered hands to move on to the next step.

"It's all made and done now", she reveals, a note of incredulity suggesting that she can't quite believe she's brought her recipes to the app world. She readily admits to being anything but a technological whizz, leaving that side of operations to her husband.

"Isaac has pages and pages of apps. Quite a long time ago he said I should do one and I said: "Don't be ridiculous."

Admiration floods in via letters from fans, many of them children making their first forays into the kitchen. Her detractors haven't been shy about writing either.

"I think criticism is a good thing and makes you look at things more closely," she says carefully. "The first couple of negative letters I found hard to take, but you have to take the rough with the smooth so I deal with it."

Her unusual accent has also been the cause of some ribbing, notably from an imposter on the micro-blogging site Twitter masquerading as Rachel.

"My mother is from Iceland and my dad was schooled in England, so that's where I got my accent and I can't change it," says Rachel. She does, however, hope to influence some change in Irish eating patterns, conceding that "there are a lot of people eating a lot of junk food".

Crucially, she has a firm grasp of the nation's eating trends, remarking: "While there's been a huge rise in farmers' markets and organic food, it would be completely naive not to notice how cheap junk food has become.

"Life has changed in the past few years, eating habits have changed and people often don't have time or money to think about their food. If you haven't been brought up seeing your mother or father cooking at home and passing on those skills, then it's easy to see how cooking habits have changed. It's very easy to cook a simple omelette but junk food is so easily and readily available."

Warming to her theme, passion floods her voice as she adds: "I do think it's awful. It's a pity that so many people have lost the skills to cook something quick and easy at home."

It's a situation that often informs her new recipes, as she illustrates: "Quite often when I'm writing a recipe I think it might be a bit too simple because people want more of a challenge. But you have to remember that there are also many people who need and want to learn the basics."

Even a talented cook occasionally has off-days, so surely Rachel suffers the odd lapse by ordering chinese takeaway or greasy chips and pizza? Not a bit of it. Instead, her worst vice is being unable to keep crisps in the house.

"We don't have junk food at home but I love really good crisps like kettle crisps," she laughs. As for her kids, they're "like any other children. If there's a chance of a bar of chocolate and a fizzy drink they'll jump at it." Yet fast food doesn't feature as a treat.

"If they're with friends or at a friend's party and they get to do something like that, it's fine", says Rachel easily. "It's not something that comes up very often and I find it's better not to make a big deal about it."

Much of her cooking wisdom, she points out, comes from her mother-in-law Darina Allen, Ireland's original celebrity chef.

"She's always ahead of the game", she marvels. "I'm always learning from her style of teaching. She's tireless in her energy and passion for food."

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