Career

Nigella Lawson on the joys of home cooking and why she loves New Zealand's coffee so much

''I'm normally a tea drinker, but I make an exception when I go to Italy or New Zealand.''

By Julia Braybrook
In the two decades since Nigella Lawson released her first book, the best-seller How to Eat, it's an understatement to say the ironically self-dubbed 'domestic goddess' has revolutionised the food scene.
Far from trying to recreate the elaborate platings of restaurant meals, Nigella espoused the simple joy of cooking in a relaxed fashion, introducing legions of time-poor home cooks to delicious, laid-back food through her many books and TV shows.
"I am a home cook myself, and I think a lot of home cooks have been intimidated over the years by professional chefs," she explains. "But, of course, what a chef is doing in a restaurant is actually right for that – it's a theatrical arena. But at home you don't want that drama in the kitchen, it should be more approachable and more welcoming."
Calling from Sydney after appearing at the Australian food festival, Margaret River Gourmet Escape, Nigella adds, "When I started off writing, people felt that they should cook at home as if it was a restaurant and I think that's changed a bit. I hope so, I certainly have done my bit to change that."
And although she flies the flag for eating well at home, Nigella isn't opposed to eating out.
During her recent tour of New Zealand she came armed with a list of places she wanted to try - Orphan's Kitchen in Auckland, known for their ethical, seasonal ethos, was one of them.
She also likes to "just to go to some small place that I find without necessarily looking it up. I think it's about the attitude to food."

Our coffee was also something she sought out. "I'm normally a tea drinker, but I make an exception when I go to Italy or New Zealand."
She adds, "I just adore New Zealand. It's so beautiful and everyone's very relaxed and the food's good, the wine's great, so those are the things that bring me back."

When it comes to food, Nigella confesses that "chiefly what inspires me is greed. I'm always thinking about what I might be eating and what I want to eat.
"But I get inspired anywhere. For example, when I was in Auckland last, I had a steak from Amano and it had a green sauce, like an Italian salsa verde, but it also had some freshly grated horseradish on it. I think that's a brilliant idea to have the horseradish fresh and grated – normally it's turned into a sauce – and it really worked. So I might be inspired to think, 'Oh I'm going to do something like that at home.' I might not cook steak in the same way, I might not do everything, but I'll remember that and think how I can use that.
"I might get inspired because I've gone shopping and I've come across a jar of something I've never used before or a spice. In a way, the most fruitful inspiration for cooking is opening a fridge and seeing what I've got to use up, or what leftovers I've got, or what vegetables – I just have to find a way of using them. And that means you're having to come up with an idea without it being forced."

Nigella, who often jots down "ideas for things that go with one another" on her phone, says the secret to good food is "really about letting the flavours of the food speak for itself and not getting too fussy".
And that's where home cooking shines. Once crowned the 'Queen of Frozen Peas' by food writer Nigel Slater, the home kitchen is all about simple, good food for Nigella.
"I think so many people have been put off by cooking because they think it's harder than it is, because they've just seen the professional chefs," she says, "but when they realise it's just about putting something in a pan and taking it out again… You can make it as complicated as you want but you don't need to. It can be very straightforward and I think that it's wonderful."

While Nigella is pleased that more young people are getting in the kitchen, she's quick to add, "I don't think it makes you a morally superior person to cook – I mean I don't make my own clothes, I'm happy to buy them, and it's no different. I just think it makes you feel grounded in a way that's very important."
Her own go-to meal at home is a "roast chicken in various different guises", with lots of vegetables, lemon inside the chicken and lots of herbs. Tray bakes, too, make an appearance.
"In my recent book [At My Table], I do one unashamedly with frozen peas, leeks and dill, and a bit of vermouth and white wine.
"I just put chicken thighs on top and that's wonderful. I think that, at home, if you can put chicken thighs with potatoes or chicken thighs with different vegetables, and change the spicing, add mustard, do whatever you want, that's the basis for a very forgiving and relaxing meal, both to cook and eat."
Looking back over the past 20 years of her career, she's just as down to earth.
"The glamorous side of it doesn't do anything for me in a way. I suppose what I like, what I feel very grateful for is I've somehow found a place within a community – both with my readers and the people who I work with on my books and making television programmes.
"At the same time, it's wonderful – especially these days when you can see it on social media – that the recipes that have been part of my life and come from my table, becoming part of my readers' lives. It's profoundly moving."

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