We catch up with home cooking goddess Nigella Lawson as she shares a new collection of recipes in At My Table
How does At My Table showcase your love of home cooking?
The shape of the book is similar to the way I think about food. I believe in free-form. I feel that so many books are designed along the lines of coming from a restaurant kitchen. That’s not how we cook at home! I loved creating a book that focuses on how cooking impacts my own life.
When you write a book, something bubbles up. Sitting around a table with people eating food was my starting point, but as I wrote, it tied into so many memories in my life and times that made me smile.
Cooking is alive. If you cook, you can’t help but have a little fiddle each time you do it, and therefore recipes emerge and they become something new. It’s not because of a strenuous effort to be original, it’s just because it’s in the nature of cooking. This book really reflects the way I cook—and I think the way a lot of home cooks feel comfortable in the kitchen. A little tweak here, a little tweak there. The discovery of a new ingredient that you can’t stop using. I like sharing those ideas. It feels like a very important communication.
How much of your cooking—and your writing—is planned?
The difficulty about having a theme before you start is that you try to shoehorn things in, or force them when they don’t fit. I jot everything down and, from there, a book emerges. I cook in an instinctive way. So much about food depends on the people present and what mood I am in. I’d say my cooking reflects that.
What's the secret to successful entertaining at home?
Generally speaking, what makes my life easier and makes me relax is if I can have done a certain amount before the meal, so I might do a stew. A stew is perfect, like the spiced lamb with potatoes and apricots in this book. I cook it at home all the time, with a beautiful salad. The perfect dinner party for me is one which means I am not nervously attending to people or clearing the table too often.
How many guests is the perfect number for a table?
I feel that six or eight is perfect. Having said that, I once gave a dinner party for a friend on her birthday. I said eight and it ended up being 19... but it was fine. I just don’t love bigger than that because someones’s going to have to sit outside the house! As more people come, you have to put out little bits... and chocolate cake.
Do you feel a community spirit among home cooks?
It’s such a warm community. In my experience, people are remarkably similar. People who like food are the best kind of people, as Julia Child always said. People are more alike than anything else. Food overcomes geography in a way. You can always bond with people about their food wherever they are from.
Has the public's focus on your personal life been a burden?
I invited it. I brought people into my home for a while, so I guess it became a public experience. I think there is a very fine line between some photographic journalism and stalking. I find it particularly alarming when children are concerned. But I like to think most people are decent. Not everyone... but most people are.
How has reality television impacted the food industry?
MasterChef Australia is a kind program. The Great British Bake Off is a very kind program but some [other shows] just intimidate the home cook, because everyone feels they are going to cook something and everyone is going to judge them. I think some can teach you something, but some of them can actually have a detrimental effect. I know that I could never go on one of those programs. I can go on as a judge, but I would not want to go on as a contestant.
It's interesting... the people who really flourish under that pressure–if you do–it probably means you are very suited for a restaurant kitchen, because restaurant kitchens are very high-pressure and adrenaline fuelled. That’s just not how I cook.
Have you adapted to changing tastes, such as increased interest in vegetarian cooking?
Not consciously. Over half the recipes in this book are vegetarian, and many are vegan. It wasn't intentional but, in the course of my life, I eat a very varied diet. I have always been fond of varied diets. It always looks like I eat more carbs than I do, because I love baking. But I don’t actually eat dessert in the normal course of my life. Special occasions, yes... or if I have someone over. But not with my family in the normal course of the day.
What's cooking next?
I have a couple of things on the back burner. I might do both of them or neither of them. Right now, I just want to be home and cook and lounge about and then see what happens. I have everything planned... and I know exactly what I’m cooking!
Nigella Lawson's At My Table is available now at The Gourmet Warehouse and other retailers. Excerpted recipes for Turkish Eggs, Indian-spiced Chicken and Potato Traybake and Spiced Lamb with Potatoes and Apricots have previously been shared here at BCLiving.