With a delicious wit and down-to-earth demeanor, Nigella Lawson’s Feel Good Food mantra is “cooking great food without the stress.”
Yes, she’s gorgeous in person. And, yes, she oozes sensuality even in a red plaid lumberjack shirt over black leggings. Now that we’ve gotten appearance out of the way, Simply Nigella Feel Good Food is Lawson’s 10th cookbook and a sort of an “Eat, Pray, Love” ode to pleasurable eating (without having to pray that your recipes work or if Javier is there at the end of the evening, but I digress…)
Having just flown into Vancouver, Canada from Los Angeles on a whirlwind North American publicity tour, she returned home to London for the holidays, then resumes her daunting book tour down under in Australia and New Zealand in the New Year. The “Domestic Goddess” is on a roll.
“I have no training as a cook,” admits the beguiling star of the Food Network and BBC-TV’s eponymous Simply Nigella, “and I never pretend I’m a chef. ” “I cook for family and friends and I chop like a normal person – in fact I’m rather klutzy. I just swallow my pride and it doesn’t make a bit of difference in the end, as long as it tastes good. ” I love big bowls,” she says alluding to her chapter Bowlfoods – ” I find them soothing. I could eat everything out of a bowl,” she laughs.
In the Introduction to Simply Nigella, she confides that “for me, cooking stems from an engagement with life, which in itself combines hopefulness with playfulness.” While the freshest ingredients are very important to her, it’s the physical ritual of “chopping, stirring, tasting, losing myself in the world of flavor and sensation,” that connects her with herself and others.
Many of the 125 recipes in Simply Nigella, are Thai-influenced from a holiday trip that ended up inspiring the cookbook. “I love talking to people wherever I go – even the cab drivers. I’m really nosey. I like the contrasts of sourness and tang of fresh and light ingredients immersed with bold flavors.” Her use of cold-pressed coconut oil, ginger, chilli and lime feature in Tequila and Lime Chicken, Carmelized Garlic Hummus and Black Rice Noodles with Ginger and Chilli, amongst others.
Lawson, 55 wasn’t always interested in cooking. She earned a degree in Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford and worked as deputy literary editor for The London Times. Her culinary career was sparked when she became the restaurant critic at The Spectator Magazine in 1985 followed by food critic for a column at the New York Times and British Vogue.
She comes from a fascinating Jewish family, with food connections over several generations. In fact, Lawson explored her genealogy and insatiable curiosity a few years ago in a five-part BBC-TV series, Who Do You Think You Are? Her father, Nigel Lawson a journalist, became British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, while her late mother, Vanessa Salmon, was an heiress to the Lyons Corner Houses Restaurants, Teashops and catering dynasty.
Lawson’s grandfather Felix Salmon, founder of Lyons, was a member of the catering corps’ famine relief during WWII and from research Nigella undertook at the Imperial War Museum, may have been attached to one of the regiments that liberated the German concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
At a jam-packed demo and signing at Barbara-Jo’s Books To Cooks in Vancouver, the mostly female audience is hanging on Lawson’s every word as she competes with the noise of the pulsating food processor making Sweet Potato and Chickpea Dip.
Whether she is alluding to her past divorce or just the state of the world in general, she quips in her charming, self-deprecating manner: “I adore bitterness but we all taste things differently. And by the way, the only place for bitterness is in the kitchen. It’s a miracle that we can all sit down together and eat!”
TOP PHOTO: Nigella Lawson in the kitchen of her new London home. Photo: Keiko Oikawa