ABC News Margaret Aro and Enjoli Francis report:
Nigella Lawson broke outside the conventional life plan very early.
At age 14, the daughter of Nigel Lawson, England's former chancellor of the exchequer, which is equivalent of America's treasury secretary, decided to earn her own living. She worked a variety of jobs - at department stores, as a waitress, as a chambermaid, as a filing clerk, and in a shoe store.
As a student at Oxford University, she stretched her money to feed everyone else.
"I've always felt you have had to play to your strengths, even if your strengths are, in themselves, weaknesses," said Lawson, who is about to release her ninth cookbook, "Nigellissima," and appears on the ABC show "The Taste."
When she cooked with her mother and sister, she was told not to use recipes and to do it for herself.
"So I used to go to market and I would buy sacks of onions. I was the queen of onion soup," she said. "I learned how to feed people without a lot of money, and that actually teaches you how to cook."
She said she gained confidence by knowing what she did well.
"Confidence is, maybe, always so overvalued," Lawson said. "Competence, I feel that competence is a very undervalued virtue. But actually, unless you are truly competent, any confidence is false. So I think it's the notion that I can provide for my own existence, and I think that arms you."
The Nigella Lawson that the world sees emerged from crisis. She was a young woman when her mother died of cancer at age 48. Her sister Thomasina died of cancer at the age of 31.
When her first husband was dying of cancer, Lawson created a cookbook of the food that had gotten her through the day.
"When John, my first husband, [was] very ill, I wrote a book called 'How to Be a Domestic Goddess,'" she said. "I think that was very therapeutic for me. But there's something so extraordinary about eggs, sugar, flour, butter becoming a cake. And maybe that's what I needed then."
Now remarried with three children and stepchildren, she shared some thoughts on cooking and what makes you feel alive.
"I always, if I've been away for any amount of time, I get in the door, take my coat off, wash my hands, put a chicken in the oven," she said. "Until the house is filled with the scent of a roasting chicken, I'm not absolutely sure I'm home."