She’s No Domestic Goddess
But she’s one free spirit. Nigella Lawson, queen of improv in the kitchen — cameras or no cameras — finds “sacred joy” in cooking for others, she tells hillary kang
Nigella Lawson we know is a voluptuous, sultry whiz in the kitchen, reinforced by one of her cookery books, How to Be a Domestic Goddess. But if there is something the 58-year-old Briton would like the world to know, it’s that she is most definitely not cut out for the role.
In the mononymous star’s kitchen, usually not the paragon of orderliness it is made out to be, Lawson flits between recipes and ingredients as her mood takes her and, hard as it is to believe, she’s “not a particularly groomed person” when the cameras aren’t rolling. But what the cameras do get right is Lawson’s homely, nurturing nature — and her innate desire to feed anyone she encounters.
“My friends always tease me that even someone coming to mend the boiler never leaves without something to eat!” Lawson laughs. “Nourishing people is just an essential part of who I am.”
Beyond her flirtatious TV persona, Lawson maintains a notoriously private life. Her 1.3 million followers on Instagram would be hard pressed to even consider that the account belongs to one of Britain’s most recognisable exports outside of the royal family. Aside from delectable confections and ambrosial platters inter-spliced with vignettes from Lawson’s supposed humdrum life, there are rarely, if ever, any images of herself.
“I’m just someone who loves food, so that’s the focus of my Instagram account,” she says. “What I really want to share is my joy of cooking, and I would like to think everything I do reflects that.”
In an era of carefully manicured plates and artfully posed images, Lawson revels in the breezy, almost-impromptu aesthetic of her food shots, giving viewers the impression she’s just plated a 3-course lunch for Monday. Imagine: A frame that’s filled with a hodgepodge of ingredients — roasted cauliflower, for which Lawson has no recipe, still on the tray; “remnants” of red salsa in a smeared bowl; and a salad comprising greens tossed together at random. It is, by Lawson’s own admission, “a lunch of odds and ends”. But it is simply a reflection of her personality.
Make no mistake, her food still looks — and tastes — divine. But there is a streak of nearrebellious free-spiritedness that runs through everything she produces. Take her cookbooks for example. Several of them eschew traditional chapters, meandering through different recipes with no discernible organisation (unsurprisingly, desserts, Lawson’s forte, are awarded their own section). “The messiness of having no chapters, no breaks in the run of recipes, felt so much more like the way I actually cook and live,” writes Lawson in her latest book, At My Table.
Her unorthodox approach to cooking may seem perplexing, but Lawson stresses she is not a “professional” chef, but a home cook. It is not a modest demur — on the contrary, the mantle of home cook is one she dons with pride.
“To me, it makes no sense to say there is only one way to cook,” she says. “For cooking to be authentic, it has to reflect our own palates and personalities.”
Lawson, who was never professionally trained, goes on, “People return to restaurants because they want a certain dish that’s made the same way every time, but when we cook at home, we can cook our dishes in different ways. That gives me endless pleasure, and a feeling of creativity. Above all, this is what I want to share with my readers.”
Lawson is tireless about spreading her craft through her inimitable brand of homeliness. Her busy calendar sees her returning to Western Australia this November to take part in the 2018 Margaret River Gourmet Escape.
Home to fresh seafood (including the “sweetest-fleshed crab and rock lobster” she has ever had), and redolent wines Lawson gladly travels more than 14,000km for, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape brings together a wealth of likeminded epicureans against a stunning backdrop of azure waters and surf breaks.
And as much as she enjoys exercising her culinary chops, the act of cooking as she puts it is merely the means to an even greater end. “I love cooking for myself, but sharing food is truly a sacred joy,” she confesses.
“There are wonderful eating opportunities at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, and I certainly relish them, but it is the sense of comradeship that makes the event special. Food is nothing without the people it helps you connect with.”
“Food is nothing without the people it helps you connect with”