TV’s domestic goddess spills her secrets on cooking, food writing and hosting
She may have 10 best-selling recipe books to her name, and 12 cooking shows in total hosted and counting, but Nigella Lawson refuses to be called chef or even a food journalist.
In previous interviews, the 56-year old Englishwoman is often quoted that her only qualification to be in the food industry is as “a good eater.” In actuality, when she began carving her name in global food scene, she was a wordsmith and lover of prose.
Lawson—daughter of Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of The Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher’s government; and Vanessa Salmon, heiress to the J.Lyons & Co. catering dynasty—studied Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford University and became a Deputy Literary Editor of the UK’s The Sunday Times.
Familiar to Filipinos mostly from her popular program on cable’s Food Network and Lifestyle Channel, Lawson animatedly recalled her journey to “domestic goddess” repute during her visit to Manila on September 2.
“Funny enough, what first got me into this, being a non-food journalist, is that I’d always cook,” she revealed.
The TV personality’s love for cooking goes all the way back to childhood when she watched and eventually joined her mother in their kitchen, making béchamel sauce and mayonnaise. Apparently, she never actually read a cookbook until she was 15-years-old, but once she “got into it” eventually amassed some 3,500 titles in her library.
From being literary editor, Lawson made the transition to food critic “accidentally” following several freelance writing gigs for different publications.
“I’ve always thought that writing and cooking is analogous to eating and reading. I am a great reader and I am a great eater! I do feel that writing is about having a voice that’s true to yourself,” she told The Manila Times.
Expounding further how she was able to bring her two passions together, Lawson noted, “It’s interesting to see how I could use the language, which is in a way abstract, to convey a language of food, which is absolutely of the senses. So when I write about food, I try to give a very clear indication of what it feels like to be cooking—what the textures are, how the smell is, and what the recipe and food evokes. In the same way, when I cook, I try to tell my story through food so it’s sort of similar.”
While considered a superstar of cooking shows today, the journalist-at-the core said writing about food will always have “a huge chunk of her heart.”
“Of course, I love cooking but I feel that writing about food is a wonderful way of connecting and communicating. I just love doing it!” Lawson exclaimed.
Story through food
Going back to her successful TV career, Lawson attributed her showbiz feat precisely because she is not a pro in front of the camera.
“Most of the people who cook on television are chefs. When I started, I recorded in my own home. I don’t do that anymore but I continue to be ‘not scripted.’ I just babble on,” Lawson happily and adorably—well—babbled.
She further noted how her genuine love for cooking has translated beyond books and television.
“I think the reason why I obviously find cooking a joy is that it’s very absorbing without being too challenging—stirring, chopping and smelling beautiful smells. It’s good for the soul,” she imparted.
Asked to give tips for budding cooks, she answered yet again like a journalist in that every dish must convey a story.
“For lots of people there’s a huge emotional history of food because it may be something that your mother cooked or you had when you were a child. I myself have a lot of my mother in my cooking,” Lawson said.
“The important thing is, not everyone has your story so you have to be able to convey your love for that and it has to taste good to people who haven’t worked out that particular dish or that particular memory,” she added.
Simplicity is not boring
Fans of Lawson know that the TV host’s enticing recipes are rarely complicated. Further proof emerged when she revealed her top three ingredients: olive oil, pasta, and lemon.
“I noticed that people often people think that cooking is about how many ingredients are used, however clever you are with your hands. But that’s not [what’s] the food you love eating,” she opined.
Lawson said that what she learned when she lived, worked and fell in love with Italy at the age of 19 is that a cook must not strive to be original.
“There’s nothing wrong with being original but when you start cooking, it shouldn’t be [about], ‘How can I surprise people?’ It should be, ‘How can I give pleasure with my food and how can I enjoy myself in the kitchen?’,” she emphasized.
For Lawson, simplicity is not boring. “People think simple is boring. No! It isn’t. Steve Jobs said simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It’s actually about trusting the ingredients and letting them sing.”
Salty, sour, sweet
Lawson flew into the Philippines to introduce Contadina, an Italian-inspired brand of sauces and pastas, on behalf of Del Monte.
In her short but sweet five-day stay in the capital, she proudly said she has tasted a variety of Filipino food including, four types of adobo, sinigang, mechado, and sisig, among others.
Asked about her thoughts on Philippine cuisine, she replied, “I think the key factor in your cuisine is the sourness of the ingredients. I like the fact that when I tasted it, I had that wonderful marriage between soy and vinegar like in adobo. And sinigang has a wonderful sourness and it’s balanced with sweetness, which I really enjoyed. Having said that, I also enjoyed your sweet dishes like the tocino del cielo.”
Gathering her thoughts gain, Lawson remarked, “I think Filipino cuisine is about the balance between the salt, the sour and the sweet.” Herself a sweetheart, the famous TV cook said she will surely incorporate what she has learned from Philippine cooking in her own kitchen.
“When you cook, you always take out the culture and use them in your own prison of experience and cultural background. In other words, for cooking to be authentic, it’s not like I’m pretending to open a Filipino restaurant. To be authentic, the trademark of the cuisine has to be in my voice,” Lawson ended.