After the ranty, furious premiere entry in theCulinary Chatter section, here I am taking a far more positive tone, you’ll be pleased to hear!
Anyone who forays into food and cooking as a passion will have done so for a reason, be it watching their mother or grandmother as a young child, having to do so to help raise a struggling family for example. I myself had always enjoyed watching food programmes growing up (I can remember avidly watching Delia’s How To Cook, and the long-forgotten series Good Living fronted by queen of birthday cakes, Jane Asher whenever I had a sick day from school if it was on TV – my mom would have it on), and both my parents went to catering college (where they met before their marriage) so we were fed mostly home-cooked food with the odd de-rigeur frozen favourites beloved of any child growing up in the Nineties to boot.
But I definitely cite my culinary inspiration occurred around the age of 12. Spring 2001.
Who or what was mine? If you haven’t read the title, my culinary inspiration is one Nigella Lawson.
Nigella Bites season two was hitting the Channel 4 airwaves. I first came across Lawson when my mother received ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’ for Christmas 2000, but hadn’t seen her until the cover of the Radio Times the week Bites series 2 went out.
At risk of sounding like an obsessed stan, something about Nigella, her undeniable beauty, her totally unpatronising manner, her warmth…the deliciousness and simplicity of her recipes, captivated me. I remember being determined to cook from her books whenever Food Tech (is it still called this nowadays?) set us a task using actual cookbooks as opposed to a photocopied recipe issued to the whole class. The first recipe of hers I attempted (badly) was for johnnycakes from ‘Domestic Goddess – it was the only Nigella book my mom had after all – for a ‘breakfast’ Food Tech task.
I also remember in my GCSE days trying to cook her courgette fritters from ‘Forever Summer’ (I had one episode on a much-watched VCR taped from the TV and watched it many times – making compilation videos using various recorded TV shows was a shortlived hobby of mine in 2002) but having to substitute half the ingredients because I didn’t like them (fussy teenage palate struck). They didn’t turn out too badly but I think I missed the point a bit.
Her Christmas Kitchen series in 2006 after a long hiatus (we didn’t get Feast on British TV) was a joy to watch – the way it was shot and lit, her inimitable warm and friendly demeanour…the recipes themselves. I am an evangelical Christmas fiend despite ten years in food retail threatening to make me hate it and the series sums it up for me – warm spices, food that’s just the right side of decadently naughty, fairy lights, rituals and traditions. Do I share her passions for the festive season because it’s Nigella or did it just so happen that way? I can’t answer.
All I know, for the past few years, I always watch the Christmas Kitchen (and Fanny Cradock Cooks For Christmas! Don’t laugh.) as a ritual over the festive season to really get me in the Christmas mood. The Nigella Christmas book is my bible this time of year – I’ve worked my way through many of the chutneys, the chilli jam is non-negotiable and always made on the 23rd of December ready for the barrage of leftover sarnies to come after the big day, whilst at least one evening in the 12th month will be spent eating the lamb tagine from the book followed by the Quickly Scaled Mont Blanc from Express.
I even have cooked a ‘mock’ Christmas dinner (as a form of training/dress rehearsal for when it eventually falls to me to be in charge of it on the actual day) for the past 3 holiday seasons (usually on the last weekend before Christmas itself) and I have adopted her cranberry and bread sauces, her fabulous roast potatoes (albeit not in goose fat as we have a vegetarian in this house) and her gingerbread stuffing as compulsory additions to my own (mock) Christmas dinner table. Because of our household size, I haven’t yet roasted a turkey, just a chicken for this, but last year I brined it using her patented superjuicy method. Like every recipe of hers thus far, it worked beautifully even with just a humble £4 supermarket chicken.
While I am well aware that La Lawson’s readership and following is in the millions across the world and I am not unique in this, but I just wanted to share whom inspired me to find so much pleasure in cooking and writing about food as I do.
I suppose I better bring in 2013, the bad year for Nigella. I will keep my opinions on the press’s demonisation of her and the awful ‘jokes’ beloved of Youtube commenters and retweet-scavengers to myself, but I will happily state that I decided to show my support for her – not by going all Chris Crocker and making an arse of myself on Youtube – but by cooking as many of her recipes as I could during the time this was going on and sharing the results on Twitter by tagging them #TeamNigella. After all, cookbook writing is how Lawson made, and continues to make, her name and fortune. And I felt the best way to honour and defend her against the tabloids and the Twitter trolls is to freaking well use her work.
After I shared some photos on Twitter of some chutneys from Christmas that I’d made; much to my joy and disbelief, I received not one, but two direct messages from Nigella herself, thanking me.
It was all I ever could have hoped for. Nigella noticed my support during a truly horrible time for her. She acknowledged me. She didn’t have to. But she did. And that was the ultimate validation. Someone whom I idolised and put on my culinary pedestal for over a decade thanked me for supporting her when many were turning on her in desperate bids to get the most retweets and become the ultimate Internet ‘comedian’.
It is rather vulgar to name-drop and frankly sad to base one’s existence on another person in the public eye, I know. I even admit that beecause of how much Lawson means to me, she is that one personality whom I admire (read: I stan hard for her) that I will not hear a word against. Much like Cradock placed Escoffier on a pedestal, or your average gay would place Britney Spears or Beyoncé. I realise if she read this she may give me a wide berth afterwards should she ever encounter me at a signing, for example (to be honest should I ever be lucky enough to cross paths with Nigella, I would have no idea what to say to her and probably cower in fear).
After all this waffle, I still can’t succinctly describe just why I chose Lawson over the likes of Slater, Delia, Ramsay or Oliver. I have other TV cooks whom I enjoy watching (The Hairy Bikers and American Youtube sensation Laura Vitale are two other contenders) but nobody seems to strike quite the same note to me as Lawson. I always find something reassuring about cooking one of her recipes (none have failed me yet) and the first time I make one, I will follow it rigidly as written, even spending more on ingredients on occasion rather than go for the suggested easier-to-obtain substitute that she so often cites within her writing.
Many like to mock Lawson, whether it’s her appearance (simple jealousy on the detractor’s part if you ask me), her use of the occasional ‘fancy’ ingredient (ignorance – many of these ‘fancy’ things are easily available online and in supermarkets these days -I found spelt spaghetti in Sainsbury’s the other month for example and breakfast radishes were stocked at my local Waitrose), the 2013 debacle, the fact that she might, quelle-horreur, use an ingredient that’s maligned by the food fascists such as cream or butter, or simply her colourful use of language when describing food, which frankly, for me, makes the act cooking more enjoyable and less of a dry, impersonal exam.
I felt like a ‘bad fan’ for not purchasing Simply Nigella until the beginning of this month, and as of yet it’s only been thumbed through, not cooked from, save for the obligatory maiden making of avocado toast. I want to make panforte this holiday season after both buying one last year, and seeing a recipe by Chestnut and Truffles on the Facebook group Baking Boy Bloggers, but I knew Nigella had a recipe. So rather than choose between the two, I am going to make both. How could I shun Nigella after all these years, but at the same time, how could I not use a ‘legit’ bona fide Italian’s recipe and show support to a fellow food blogger?
So thank you Nigella. Thank you for inspiring me for the past fifteen years and showing me the sheer visceral pleasure that lies within even the most basic foods.
I bet anyone who reads my blog will think ‘oh look at this twat thinking he can cook when all he does is put up carby, calorific cakes and moan about clean eating. Bet he’s about 20 stone and a virgin LOL’. But you know what, drag me all you like. I put up recipes that I want to share with people, that I want people to cook. The whole point of starting this blog was to tell people about the foods I enjoy. I don’t expect to convert folk.
I can even give a reason for the recipes I’ve posted up until now – I’ve shared parkin because it’s something that’s still unknown in parts of the UK in an age where many of our own traditional foods are being lost despite Bake Off being the country’s hottest commodity; red wine cake because it was something so simple yet I’d never even considered; American fruitcake because despite the ridicule, it can be very good; the sole soup because I wanted to make a small stand against the shocking waste of pumpkins after Halloween; the quince pie because I think more should know about these curious tough yellow fruits…I could go on.