Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

SEVEN­TEEN MasterChef con­tes­tants walk through the grounds of Syd­ney’s Vau­cluse House when they spot a strik­ing porce­lain-skinned woman sitting next to Gary Me­hi­gan and Ge­orge Calom­baris. Nigella Law­son is mak­ing a sur­prise ap­pear­ance on the hit Chan­nel 10 cook­ing show, and it is fair to say she isn’t pre­pared for the emo­tional re­sponse she re­ceives.

The male con­tes­tants seem over­whelmed; the women scream. Shan­non Smyth starts cry­ing.

‘‘ How To Be A Do­mes­tic God­dess has been my bi­ble,’’ Shan­non says through the tears, as she rushes to hug her idol.

‘‘ I can’t be­lieve my eyes,’’ Alana Lowes says. ‘‘ I’ve never felt so starstruck in all my life.’’

Law­son, in trade­mark black with a laven­der cardi­gan, is here to judge the red and blue teams cook­ing six of her sig­na­ture dishes, in­clud­ing a rib roast, a game pie and two desserts.

The twist is that only the first mem­ber of each team gets to see the recipes, and has to give the oth­ers ver­bal in­struc­tions.

Law­son says she was stunned by the emo­tional re­sponse she re­ceived.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Mar­garet Bash­field says no other celebrity chef has ever elicited such a fawn­ing re­ac­tion from con­tes­tants, but Law­son mod­estly puts it down to the power of food.

‘‘ The rea­son why peo­ple re­act so emo­tion­ally around food is be­cause it is more than just fuel for life,’’ Law­son says. ‘‘ It is im­pos­si­ble to ex­ag­ger­ate its im­por­tance to peo­ple.’’

It is hard not to think there are other rea­sons. Men surely re­spond to her volup­tuous looks and flir­ta­tious man­ner. She has been la­belled ‘‘ the queen of food porn’’.

Law­son’s ca­sual ap­proach to cook­ing — she is quoted as say­ing ‘‘ I think cook­ing should be about fun and fam­ily’’— res­onates.

‘‘ I haven’t got any train­ing (as a chef),’’ Law­son says. ‘‘ I don’t have the abil­ity or the skills to do that kind of fancy foot­work.’’

Law­son’s per­sonal tri­als have also struck a chord with fe­male fans. In 1997, her hus­band John Di­a­mond was di­ag­nosed with throat cancer. He died in 2001 at age 47 and Law­son raised their two chil­dren, Cosima and Bruno, solo.

Law­son re­cently de­scribed her best­selling How to be a Do­mes­tic God­dess, which cel­e­brates bak­ing and women’s role in cook­ing, as ‘ a fem­i­nist tract’.

‘‘ We think of bak­ing as old-fash­ioned and home­spun, but I think bak­ing is a fan­tas­tic trans­for­ma­tive act,’’ Law­son says.

She is the epit­ome of cour­tesy and calm, even when rain threat­ens to dis­rupt film­ing, but Law­son ad­mits she had some trep­i­da­tion about ap­pear­ing on MasterChef.

‘‘ It is al­ways very dif­fi­cult be­fore­hand know­ing that you’re go­ing to do a show of this sort, be­cause I feel that the con­tes­tants are in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion,’’ Law­son ex­plains.

‘‘ You want to be hon­est, but you don’t want to be part of any­thing that is the theatre of cru­elty, which some re­al­ity shows can be.

‘‘ What I like about Aus­tralian MasterChef is that while peo­ple (judges) are pretty di­rect about whether some­thing works or not, there is a kind­ness and there isn’t any of that per­sonal abuse or ri­tual hu­mil­i­a­tion (of other re­al­ity shows).’’ MasterChef Aus­tralia, Chan­nel 10, tonight, 7.30pm Steady, boys: Nigella Law­son with Gary Me­hi­gan and Ge­orge Calom­baris

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