Ex My Kitchen Rules Judges Rachel Khoo: 'The Pandemic Has Left Me Without Work'

The chef and presenter is facing career instability, but says weight training is keeping her physically and mentally strong.

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In What Works For Me – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – HuffPost UK talks to celebrities about wellbeing and self-care.

Surfing, pole dancing, running, HIIT, Pilates and yoga. These are just some of the eclectic – and exhausting – hobbies of TV chef and presenter Rachel Khoo.

Khoo is based in the UK, but known to Australian audiences after being a judge on ‘My Kitchen Rules’ in 2016 and host of ‘Zumbo’s Just Desserts’ that same year.

“I love the mental aspect of exercise, it’s not just about the physical things,” she tells HuffPost UK. “With surfing, for example, you’re waiting for your next wave, you’re focussed, you’re in the moment. For me, exercise provides escapism.”

Keeping active is now Khoo’s main form of self-care, but she used to hate exercising when the fitness industry was “all about losing weight”. In more recent years, though, the narrative has been more about feeling good – and the 40-year-old has thrown herself into trying everything.

“I follow this Instagram account called See my Strong [started by journalist and author Poorna Bell],” says Khoo. “It’s really championing exercise, not as a form of looking slimmer or getting into a bikini shape – which I’ve always struggled with – but it’s more about feeling your best.”

Pre-pandemic, the account inspired Khoo to try pole dancing, because she’s always been fascinated by the strength of performers. When the studio was forced to close, she signed up to a weight training programme on the app FIIT and discovered a new love.

“I really enjoy it, because I feel really strong afterwards,” she says. “I’ve got to pick up a 15 kilo toddler when he’s screaming, so I want to be strong for that. I want to feel like I can do these things.”

Khoo has two children: a four-year-old and an 18-month-old. She moved to Sweden in 2016, so hasn’t had to deal with months of homeschooling like her British friends, as her eldest has continued nursery. But, she says, the pandemic has still been a challenge. All her work is based in the UK – and Sweden was only added to the government’s “travel corridors” list this week.

“I was a week off filming a TV project [when lockdown hit] and that got postponed, and there’s still all this uncertainty,” she says. “I don’t have any work. I’ve lost out on a lot of work and I’m continuing to lose out on work because I can’t travel. So, I’ve had to grapple with the situation.”

Rachel Khoo:
Rachel Khoo:

Khoo acknowledges she’s in “a very privileged situation” financially, because she has the support of her husband, but says work still forms a key part of her identity.

“I built it up from scratch and I’m very proud of my career, it’s a lot of blood sweat and tears that have got me to where I am,” she says. “I’m losing out on all these jobs and I have no security. You start thinking: ‘Should I go and get a job at the local supermarket?’”

Another source of frustration during the pandemic has been the government’s obesity strategy, says Khoo. As a chef, she’s taken an active interest in it.

“The government keeps saying people need to lose weight and there should be a tax on unhealthy food, but I think they should also be making fruit and veg more accessible and encourage people to eat it,” she says. “If buying some fruit and veg is more expensive than getting a bucket of fried chicken and chips, what are people meant to choose?”

Khoo herself identifies as a “flexitarian” and limits the amount of meat she buys, usually settling on one organic chicken a month. It’ll be used for a roast, then a pie the next day. The bones will make stock, and that will form the basis of a chicken risotto.

“If you’re going to use meat, you have to make sure you really use it all the way and that you’re not wasting anything,” she says. “My biggest bugbear is food waste.”

She isn’t likely to make the jump to vegetarian or vegan anytime soon, though – even after delving into sustainable diets during her recent podcast venture, A Carnivore’s Crisis, recorded earlier this year.

“I think you have to do the best you can,” she says. “Don’t get into this moral guilt and think you’re the cause of the end of the world and climate change. I don’t think the responsibility should fall on the individual to solve climate problems, it needs to be a joint effort between the government, big corporations and the individual.”

Her attitude of “doing the best you can” extends towards parenting, she jokes. “If they need to watch Peppa Pig, so be it! At the end of the day, they will be alright. It’s about not being so hard on yourself.”

Until her work situation resolves itself, Khoo is staying positive with her daily exercise routine, coupled with the occasional online cookery class. She may need to “pivot” her career plans to suit the new world we live in, but she’ll no doubt land on her feet, with the same tried-and-tested methods.

“I find a lot of comfort in action and doing things, rather than being in the moment and feeling sorry for myself,” she says. “Everything I’ve done in my career is because I’ve gone and knocked on doors. A lot of doors haven’t opened, a lot of doors have been slammed in my face.

“But persistence pays off, I really believe that.”

Rachel Khoo is the host of the documentary podcast series A Carnivore’s Crisis, a Pipi Films production written and produced by Nicola Harvey and Naima Brown. It’s now available on Audible.