“It’s the simple things that matter”
When it comes to Christmas entertaining, Nigella Lawson says perfection is the problem – and embracing the chaos is key
Self-styled domestic goddess and cookbook author Nigella Lawson reveals her plans for the festive season and explains why, when it comes to the Christmas feast, she prefers to embrace the chaos.
She is known the world over as the self-styled domestic goddess – with a multimillion dollar food empire and nearly a dozen cookbooks to her name – so one could forgive Nigella Lawson for feeling overstretched in the lead-up to that all-important Christmas meal. But speaking to Stellar from her London home, food appears to be the last thing on Lawson’s mind when asked to nominate the most important piece of advice for those of us eager to navigate the upcoming festive season without breaking a sweat.
“Never wear new shoes,” the 57-year-old replies instantly in that infamous velvety voice that has soothed scores of frazzled fans since she came to fame nearly two decades ago.
The weeks leading up to Christmas are always busy – and for Lawson, it may be busier than usual this year. Aside from all that planning, she is also in promotion mode. Her latest cookbook, At My Table, hit shelves in September; its sister TV show Nigella: At My Table, premieres this week on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Food channel. Their theme is simply “a celebration of home cooking”, which dovetails nicely with Lawson’s insistence that she prefers her efforts to exude a pleasant, laid-back vibe. Perfection, during the festive season or any other time of year, is something she’s never been obsessed with.
“Failure is a really essential part of life, whether in the kitchen or out of it,” she tells Stellar. “Often, when some [dish] has gone wrong and been absolutely catastrophic and you can’t eat it, you have to say, ‘Sorry guys, it’s going to be pasta with garlic and chilli pepper and olive oil instead.’”
Lawson does not subscribe to the idea of a cookie-cutter Christmas. To her, the most important part of the festive season is making memories in the company of friends and family. Top of the list are her daughter Cosima, 23, and son Bruno, 21, from her first marriage to husband John Diamond (who died from throat cancer in 2001; Lawson and second husband Charles Saatchi divorced in 2013).
The food on the table should taste great, of course, “but it shouldn’t feel like you have a full-time job cooking it. You need to relax yourself.” Lawson seems to have learnt this at a young age, vividly recounting for Stellar, “When I was a child, every Christmas Eve my mother would burst into tears because she got so stressed and there was so much to do.
“And admittedly, the shopping was a lot harder then. It wasn’t easy to get [all the ingredients] and the shops would shut for so long. I vowed that when I was grown up I wouldn’t be like that. So I really am very strict with myself about not taking on too much, and remembering why I’m inviting people round. I want to make them welcome and I want to enjoy their company.”
LAWSON IS A natural-born storyteller, and At My Table takes the same approach as her other collections; recipes are accompanied by a yarn or memory explaining the dish’s personal significance to her, and giving insights into cooking shortcuts, personal interests and opinions on everything from peeling potatoes (not really a fan) to the word garnish (“oh, how I loathe [it]”).
Arguably, it is this sort of unpretentious and relatable approach that has helped her career thrive. Aside from cookbooks, she has fronted 10 cooking shows and appeared as a judge on productions including The Taste and Masterchef Australia. Yet Lawson still insists she is not a chef.“i write about food and I cook a lot but really, I only cook for people I know,” Lawson tells Stellar. “I don’t cook professionally and I don’t have any particular skills.”
Her cult-like legion of fans would disagree. “I don’t think of it in that way,” she insists of her iconic status. Still, aside from her successful books and television shows, her socialmedia feeds boast a cumulative five and a half million followers. There, she says, “you can have a really profound interaction. The fact that when people cook one of my recipes, they either hashtag it or tag me… to see the food I’ve cooked and put on my table over the years become part of someone else’s life, I find it so moving. It’s actually a connection, a real connection. In the end, that’s what it’s about.”
And food is perhaps the most potent way Lawson connects to her past – particularly during the silly season. One of four children born to politician Nigel Lawson, 85, and society hostess Vanessa Salmon, who died in 1985 from liver cancer, Lawson recounts waking up like most children well before dawn on Christmas Day to dive into her stocking. Hers would contain a pomegranate, tangerine and several chocolate coins. “I would winkle out the pomegranate seeds with a hair grip and eat them with excitement. Christmas to me is the smell of brandy being lit. It’s sugar and vinegar in a chutney – it’s so pronounced that just the taste… I can feel the presents have been opened and we’re on to the leftovers.”