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Domestic Goddess: NIGELLA LAWSON

Lawson attended St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, where she snagged a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages. That training — however roundabout — would later inform her vibrant culinary dialogue. “While I was in school, I became the queen of French onion soup,” she said. “That was the thing about being a child slave in the kitchen — you learn to cook basic things. It was cheap and something I could cook vats of.”

Post-studies, Lawson went into publishing. “But I was impatient and thought the whole process took too long,” she said. So on to journalism, it was. Lawson began writing a restaurant column for the Spectator and became the deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times in 1986. There, she met fellow journalist John Diamond. She later married him and gave birth to two children, Cosima and Bruno.

After the Times, Lawson became a culinary accomplice on Nigel Slater’s Real Food Show, wrote for Gourmet, Bon Appétit and British Vogue, and became the bestselling author of Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, Forever Summer, Nigella Bites, How to Be a Domestic Goddess and How to Eat, which have sold in excess of 2.8 million copies worldwide.

Beyond that, Lawson has appeared in multiple eponymous series in the UK. She made a splash in the US as the host of Forever Summer with Nigella, a cooking and lifestyle series that aired on the Style Network; Nigella Bites, which aired on E! and the Style Network and was filmed in her well-appointed London flat; and Nigella Feasts, which debuted on Food Network in fall 2006. All were inspired by her cookbooks; some endeavors were more personal than others. Nigella Bites, for example, was shot while Diamond was gravely ill.

“At the time, I couldn’t work outside of my home,” she said. “My husband was very sick, and I had young children. I could check on him upstairs and work downstairs. [The show] was produced under intimate conditions.”

In September 2003, under the scrutiny of the British media once again, Lawson married art collector Charles Saatchi, all the while whipping, blitzing and syllabub-ing her way into kitchens (and hearts) worldwide. You’d scarcely know she achieved success while kicking and screaming. “When I first started to write a food book, I was a bit embarrassed,” Lawson chuckled. “I was convinced I’d write the great novel of the 20th century and I didn’t do that.”

She describes herself as “clumsy” in the kitchen. Often deprecating, Lawson is quick to point out that — despite the monikers bestowed upon her — she isn’t a trained chef. “I’m a writer — and what I want is for people to get lost in the narrative [of my cooking]. When it comes to food, I’m not just interested in the formula. I like the story behind it. What’s challenging is you’re using words to describe an experience that has nothing to do with words.”

Call it a blessing or a curse. But to her credit, Lawson has done quite a job verbalizing otherwise indescribable sensations. For example, she uses terms like “green and fragrant ointment” to describe cilantro chutney while scoffing at the “flat, sludgy lentils” her mother once favored.

Often accused of being highfalutin, she has been quoted as saying she doesn’t shop at supermarkets (she fears where things come from) and was rumored to have lost a radio gig appealing to everyday folk after saying she had her shopping done for her. To be fair, she never claimed to be lowbrow. For her, it’s “flowing, vicious yolks” on soft-boiled eggs — or bust.

“I’ve never regarded my career as life or death,” Lawson said as our interview concluded. And she has no intention of doing so now. If it’s Julia Child you want, check out the reruns and leave Lawson to concoct (and greedily sample) a meaty ragout.


Nigella Express was published by Hyperion Books in November 2007

Recipes from Nigella Express are availabe in 20 Interviews (click here to purchase this issue)




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