I could never watch Nigella Lawson’s cookery programmes.
I tried a few, but quite frankly all that sensous finger-licking and general lusciousness left me cold – and it was quite clear she was primarily selling the whole “domestic goddess/perfect family” lifestyle aspiration with tasty, reliable recipes only a kind of accessory.
The last scene I watched was one of her done up like a dog’s dinner on a London bus complete with fake passengers, opening a carton of her own home-made soup and treating it like that was the practical busy-woman’s lunch option. Ludicrous.
But. Hold on, I need a bigger ‘but’…..BUT a friend who is a huge Nigella fan, gave me a couple of her recipes and lo, they were good. So I tried a few more – and they were good too.
Which is why I went to see her at Cheltenham Festival of Literature this week where she was selling yet another cookery book.
First impressions. If Nigella was a pudding, she would be a knickerbocker glory brim full of chocolate icecream covered with glossy rich chocolate and caramel sauces.
She was tall and statuesque in a chocolate brown figure-hugging jersey dress. Her undergarments must be designed by Sir Norman Foster. Only a man who created the Gherkin could be trusted with the task of providing the supportive cradling of Nigella’s pneumatic figure. She is curvy and generously proportioned; a lady who obviously likes her food, which is fine by me. Never trust a skinny cook.
It was obvious that she isn’t used to speaking in front of a large audience – the Town Hall was full – and I rather liked the way that, between lavish Italian-style hand gestures, she absent-mindedly fiddled with her sleeves, pushing them up and then pulling them back down again.
There was no simpering, fluttering of eyelashes or finger-licking – in direct contrast to the way she comes across on the television – and I agreed with a lot of her opinions about the importance of food within the family.
She set about dismantling her domestic goddess image – portraying herself as an anti-perfectionist who only wanted women to feel like domestic goddesses – not actually to become goddesses. She claimed she is slap-dash around the house and can’t iron.
I felt quite sorry for her when she said that as a child, she hated food but was made to eat it so mealtimes were “uncomfortable.” If she didn’t finish it, what was left was served up cold at the next mealtime. That’s a horribly Victorian way to handle reluctant eaters.
I agreed completely with what she said about providing food to give pleasure to family and friends and the way mealtimes, even if something goes badly wrong, are still memorable.
I agreed with her about KFC – her kids tell her the chicken is delicious but she has never brought herself to eat it because she thinks too much about how the chickens are raised.
Like me, she admits to being obsessed with Masterchef the Professionals on TV. Similarly, she has no ambition to cook and present meals like Michel Roux or any other Michelin-starred chef.
I felt like standing up and cheering when she said “I never want to peel a grape” because that’s exactly what I said to DT man when Michel was assembling a twee little dessert of fragile sesame crisps layered with tipsy cream and peeled grapes. “What??? Hell will freeze over before I do that.”
She has cooking disasters too, which is an enormous comfort – especially after recent experiences here – she had an oven explode with a loud bang while Salman Rushdie was in the house under a fatwa and secret service men ran into the kitchen to find her looking frazzled and the wreck of a roast joint of lamb. She has also found a chicken completely raw in the oven because she’d forgotten to switch it on. AND, like me, she checks off a list of everything she is serving because it’s too likely that something will be left abandoned and uneaten in the fridge or the oven.
The other aspect that was a bit sad and surprising was a story she told about her husband Charles Saatchi who, apparently isn’t keen on some of her cooking.
She said “My husband doesn’t really like what I think of as proper food but he tries to show willing.”
One evening he decided to try her prawn dhansak. He ate it and afterwards said “That was the most disgusting thing I have ever had.”
She asked him why he ate it.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” he said “But I was really afraid you might give it to me again!”
So there’s a downside to being married to a multi-millionaire after all. Just a small one, though. Maybe I shouldn’t feel too sorry for her…