She may be the British bestselling author of Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, Forever Summer, Nigella Bites, How to Be a Domestic Goddess and How to Eat (which have sold in excess of 2.8 million copies worldwide), and she may be television host of a popular cooking series, but whatever you do, don’t call her a chef.
“I am not a trained chef,” says Nigella Lawson, speaking on the phone from London. “I’m just someone who loves to cook and have been fortunate enough to build a successful career around my two great loves: cooking and writing.”
Lawson’s plan was to “write a great novel, but when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to write a great novel, I found that I really enjoyed writing about food.”
Prior to her current incarnation as cookbook author and television host, Lawson was deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times, but in 1989, she left to pursue a freelance career. She wrote for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Sunday Times, Evening Standard, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Observer, and in the United States, for Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines. She originated the restaurant column in the Spectator and wrote the food column for British Vogue for several years.
However it was with the release of her first cookbook, How to Eat, that Lawson was thrust into the spotlight and began to garner her international acclaim.
Like many public figures, Lawson has been the object of criticism. Some have attacked her for presenting very well-resourced cooking as a guileless, amateur pursuit. And far too often, journalists write about her voluptuous body and her looks instead of focusing on her success as a cookbook author.
“I don’t take what is written about me personally,” Lawson says. “I think that if you believe all the good things that are written about you, you would be a monster, and conversely, if you believed all the bad things that are said, you’d be a wreck, so I find it’s much better to not care what is being said about me. It also helps that growing up, my father was a public figure [Her father, Lord Nigel Lawson was chancellor of the exchequer], and so I was somewhat prepared on how to deal with the loss of privacy.”
Today, Lawson is keeping busy with the release of her new cookbook, Nigella Express, and her Food Network TV show of the same name. Nigella Express offers meals one can make quickly and easily, with vital tips on how to keep your cupboard stocked, and freezer and fridge stacked. Nigella Express presents great food that can be prepared in an instant, but cooked slowly in the oven, leaving you time to have a bath, a drink, talk to friends, or do the children’s homework.
“However little time or effort I can expend on the day’s supper, I have to know it will deliver nothing less than pure pleasure,” she says. “The recipes in my new book satisfy that most necessary of edicts.”
Our interview is coming to a close, which conveniently happens to be around lunchtime in London. Lawson admits that she’s constantly thinking about food and finding new ways to do things.
“I try to remember what I did last time with a certain meal and come up with way to make it different by mixing up small things, such as adding a different herb or adding a new ingredient to a tried and true recipe.”
And with that, she’s off to – where else? Her kitchen to create herself a fantastic lunch.
50 g favourite short pasta
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1/2 cup fresh corn from the cob or frozen corn
handful of snap peas or snow peas, chopped
few tinned baby beetroots, quartered
handful of fresh herbs of your choice, chopped (flat-leaf parsley, thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram)
handful of baby spinach, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemon olive oil or olive oil if you can’t find the lemon
white wine vinegar
6 tbsp. mayonnaise
Basically all you have to do is cook the pasta until al dente, drain it and then while it is still in the colander, rinse under cold water, moving it around with your hands when it is cool enough to touch. Place it in a really big bowl with all of your chopped vegetables and herbs, then stir together with some seasoning, a couple of good lugs of the olive oil, one slosh of the vinegar and the mayonnaise. Taste it when you’ve finished stirring, because it might need more of one of the dressing ingredients.