IT’S FOLK NOT FOOD

NIGELLA LIKES SMALL DINNERS WHERE SHE CAN MIX WITH ALL THE GUESTS

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - WEEKEND - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

She’s known as Bri­tain’s do­mes­tic god­dess, but Nigella Lawson doesn’t play din­ner host as of­ten as you’d think. The celebrity cook, TV host and best-sell­ing author prefers small, in­for­mal gath­er­ings.

“I don’t en­ter­tain a great deal, es­pe­cially when I’m film­ing or fin­ish­ing a book,” she says. “I don’t do that en­ter­tain­ing with a cap­i­tal E. I just have friends over. I cook a lot, but I’m not a huge en­ter­tainer. I go through a flurry of it – I think ‘Oh God I haven’t had peo­ple around for ages – for three week­ends run­ning and then I go ‘I need a bit of a rest’. I’m bet­ter at just chuck­ing things to­gether, rather than get­ting things in the di­ary.”

Lawson first rose to fame with her 1998 cook­book How to Eat. As the story goes, she was in­spired to pen the book af­ter she ob­served a din­ner party host in tears be­cause of an un­set creme caramel.

So what is Lawson’s idea of a per­fect din­ner party?

“I don’t do big – six peo­ple is a favourite num­ber for me,” she says.

“When you have too many peo­ple you can’t talk around the table and that’s the whole point. As much as I love food, the point is to en­joy their com­pany and to chat. I know I’m greedy and I like food, but the most im­por­tant part of the evening is not the food. You want to re­mem­ber you had a good laugh or some­one said some­thing mov­ing.”

A jour­nal­ist turned food iden­tity, but im­por­tantly not a trained chef, the vel­vet-voiced Lawson is a cham­pion for sim­ple, de­li­cious food. The 58-year-old has 10 best-sell­ing cook­books and 13 tele­vi­sion se­ries to her name, and she sees food as a cen­tral, even therapeutic, part of life.

“As hu­man be­ings we need a creative out­let and we also need time to de­com­press; cook­ing can pro­vide that,” she says.

“It’s not nec­es­sar­ily about hav­ing masses of peo­ple around. It’s a day-to-day thing. A bit of stir­ring and de­com­press­ing in the kitchen can make all the dif­fer­ence. So many of us are fizzing about in our heads. When you’re cook­ing you have to move your in­tel­li­gence to your hands and your taste­buds.

“When I was a jour­nal­ist I earned my liv­ing and my days were all about my thoughts in my head and words. Some­how to work in a non-ver­bal way, which is food, even though my task is to turn that back into words, that thing of mov­ing out of the head space re­ally I think is es­sen­tial. In a way that is why a lot of peo­ple like gar­den­ing, or sports. I sup­pose with cook­ing there’s an el­e­ment of play. As you get to be an adult there’s much less play in our lives.”

Lawson hopes to bring out the play­ful cre­ativ­ity in this year’s MasterChef Aus­tralia con­tes­tants when she re­turns to our screens to­mor­row. Her ap­pear­ance two years ago was a hit with con­tes­tants and view­ers.

“I’m thrilled to be back,” she says. “It seems to me to be a very good crop of cooks this year. I’ve eaten some ex­cep­tional food, re­ally ex­tra­or­di­nary. I have to say in one par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge to choose the top three dishes was so dif­fi­cult be­cause of who to ex­clude. We had a good five or six that could have been in that top three; I’m not used to that.”

On her pre­vi­ous visit, she set a mid­night snack chal­lenge. This time around, she’s de­cided on a brunch chal­lenge.

“I don’t think it has to be com­pletely tra­di­tional,” she says. “I sup­pose you’d ex­pect some­thing with an egg in it some­where. I’m al­ways happy to see a pile of waf­fles but they don’t have to be tra­di­tional (with the brunch brief). I would also be per­fectly in­ter­ested in a dish that came from an­other coun­try like con­jee. I think re­ally you just need to feel it’s a co­he­sive dish. It’s up to their cook­ing to con­vince me.”

Af­ter a whirl­wind tour of In­dia last year, Lawson is keen to ded­i­cate a good chunk of 2018 to travel.

“I’m not a plan­ner, and I don’t want to jump straight away into an­other book,” she says, re­fer­ring to her lat­est cook­book At My Table. “I do want more travel in 2018. It was a pretty fran­tic last year, so I’ll do some travel and I want to be open to new things.

“I don’t mean to sound like I’m into some new-age nonsense, although I am a bit, but I value mem­o­ries more than things.”

MasterChef ’s Nigella Week starts to­mor­row at 7.30pm on Chan­nel 10.

I’LL DO SOME TRAVEL AND I WANT TO BE OPEN TO NEW THINGS. I DON’T MEAN TO SOUND LIKE I’M INTO SOME NEW-AGE NONSENSE, ALTHOUGH I AM A BIT, BUT I VALUE MEM­O­RIES MORE THAN THINGS.

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