To be a successful chef today means to publish books. Cookbooks, mostly, but lifestyle guides and memoirs, too. Authorship is now the logical next step to making it big on the restaurant scene.
Nigella Lawson has done things backwards -- as much as someone with such a hot career can be said to have done things backwards. First she made her name as a writer. Then she made her name as a foodie.
"I was still a journalist, a proper op-ed columnist, when my first book came out, and I don't really know why I did [it]," Lawson said. "I just found myself writing this book, 'How To Eat.' And I suppose it was a sort of manifesto, it wasn't really a recipe book in the way they've become. It wasn't illustrated, it was largely narrative. It was really an attempt to talk about the role that food played in my life and in life generally."
In advance of the holidays, Lawson took a moment to talk about her discovery of food writing, the pleasures of home cooking and her new book of recipes and entertaining tips, "Nigella Christmas."
For a sampling of Nigella Lawson's favorite recipes, click HERE.
"I don't know how I quite tumbled into being food writer," Lawson said. "I'm not a chef or anything ... I'm not even a trained cook. But I really feel that much as I admire chefs, real cooking is home cooking. So I feel that I'm bearing the banner for the home cook, just family food, the food that you eat with your friends, that sort of thing."
Before the runaway success of "How to Eat," Lawson, a Londoner, was a versatile editorialist and deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times. After "How to Eat," Lawson published a string of cooking best-sellers, including "How to Be a Domestic Goddess" and "Nigella Express: Good Food Fast." Her TV credits include "Nigella Feasts" and "Nigella Express" on the Food Network, "Forever Summer with Nigella" on the Style Network and "Nigella Bites" on E! Entertainment Television.
Lawson traced her earliest memories of food to Sundays spent helping her mother out with family feasts.
"My mother was a great believer in child labor," said Lawson. "So when we were terribly young she'd make us help cook like Sunday lunch. We'd have scissors and top and tail beans, and she'd make us stir things, and I suppose I feel like I've made a bechamel since I've been about six. I mean I didn't know that's what it's called. We just called it white sauce.
"I've always cooked, I suppose. I've always cooked and I've always felt a clatter of pans around me as a very comfortable noise. But I feel really my default mode is a roast chicken. If I were to wake up after some enormous long sleep, I really think I would just get up and find myself getting a chicken out of the fridge, rubbing it with butter, squeezing a lemon over it and putting it in the oven, and I would do that before I was even conscious or knew what my name was."
The menu of her childhood strayed from the traditional English mainstays, Lawson said, on account of her mother's early embrace of Mediterranean cuisine.
"I often feel I was brought up in a sort of different England than a lot of other people were, because whereas a lot of other people ate traditional English food, my mother'd be very inspired by a lot of Mediterranean cooking, when it wasn't enormously fashionable," said Lawson.