I’m scarcely believing I’m writing this down, but I shall never forget All Hallow’s Eve 2017.
They say you should never meet your heroes. And that day I met mine.
I’ve gushed shamelessly over Nigella Lawson and how she has been the reason I’ve sustained an interest in cooking and food writing before, but I honestly never thought I would get to meet her, let alone have a small conversation with her without becoming tongue-tied or saying something hideously embarrassing. She was giving a talk about her newest book At My Table, and audience members were invited afterwards to the microphone to ask her questions or simply get a chance to tell her a story.
I don’t want to pontificate too much with the details of my day, such as my poor meal planning resulting in only having time to cook supper but not actually EAT it – incidentally on the menu that night was the Chicken, Leek and Pea Traybake from At My Table, which already seems to be a very popular recipe from that book as it featured in the premiere of the new TV series (I abandoned Bake Off in September after the technicals got too stupid and relied on specialist equipment *cough* waffle cone machines *cough*). And I chose to travel by train as it worked out faster than driving to Ely at that time of night. So a snatched cold cheap mince pasty and a boost bar from the Tesco adjacent to Ely station were all that I was sustaining myself with for a night with Nigella. Not the best start.
I’d promised myself that every meal on that day was to be from At My Table…breakfast was the Turkish Eggs, albeit without the key ingredient of Aleppo pepper (I must order some soon) instead with paprika and chilli flakes; lunch was the pasta with anchovies, tomatoes and mascarpone; and dinner the aforementioned traybake with apple gingerjack for dessert….it almost worked out – I just reheated a large portion of traybake when I arrived home that night and I still have some of the gingerjack left over. But anyway, I digress.
Thankfully I managed to not fall asleep during what was a very engaging talk (I’d worked a night shift Monday night and had stayed up all day owing to a doctors’ appointment at 1:30); though admittedly I was focusing more on the fact that I WAS IN THE SAME ROOM AS NIGELLA at times…and as soon as Nigella announced she wanted to hear from us…I made a beeline to join the small throng of fans.
I had to really bite my tongue and hold my side-eyes when the first person to speak, an American woman, decided to criticise Nigella for how much salt she uses in her cooking (yes, I know. Some people). Nigella’s response was perfectly gregarious yet meticulously tore apart this ridiculous criticism – salt is always to taste and most with half a brain should know that. The others, including a very glamorously-vintage-attired food writer, thankfully had much more interesting things to ask and say. I was panicking as the line shrunk – had I thought this through and what the HELL should I ask her? I’m not as well read as I should be….and I really could not think of an original question regarding food….at last…heart racing…I gingerly looked across the ornate cathedral aisle at the lady whom I’ve idolised, been inspired and captivated by since the age of 12; fiercely defended against yawnsome detractors….tweeted frequently…and all in all, the main reason I’m even in this game….and introduced myself as the guy who cooked her late sister Thomasina’s favourite food (hear more about it in this interview and trust me, you should try it. It’s a killer breakfast, especially if you, like me have a severe umami tooth)
I had indeed made this two weeks prior and tweeted it to Nigella…who replied that it moved her (and made my entire weekend in the process). Her spoken response to me couldn’t have been better….I did feel a bit of an idiot though…like I’d used this time to inflate my own ego and get that prized ‘recognition’. I now understand why meeting a public figure means so much to folk…I wanted to tell Nigella without being creepy or cliched just how much she means to me and the sheer impact she has had on my life, and cooking this dish that was deeply personal to her own past was in my mind, the best way of thanking her….much like my fervently making of her chutney recipes in 2013 when the entire world seemed fiercely determined to demonise her. And because this combination of taromasalata, crispy bacon and sharp scallions on a soft doughy pitta bread is KILLER. It may not be gourmet or refined but boy does it taste good. I’d even recommend it as a hangover cure.
Then came the long glacial queue to get my book signed. All the time I was quivering and shying up. I wanted to get in one final chat with her as I may not ever get the chance to again. I was one of the tail end of the line and I was worrying about getting the last train from Ely but I knew if I left too soon, I’d always regret it. It was time. I handed my cracked rose gold iPhone 7 to a very friendly lady who was taking on photography duties for the fans and shuffled over to the radiant Ms Lawson (who incidentally is absolutely exquisite in person and every bit as warm as you think). She thanked me again and I knew that it was time to be the cliche and tell her just how much she means to me; that I first saw her on Bites in 2001 when I was 12…and how she’s the reason I’ve remained so interested in food and cooking. I also dropped what could be seen as a clanger by some and told her I was an aspiring food blogger and should she wish to, she could read it…and gave her the name of this blog.
“The cooking petrolhead? I will never forget that!”
Accompanied by that luminescent smile.
Well Nigella, I will NEVER forget meeting you. My life was made. And should you decide to read this insignificant blog updated with appalling irregularity….thank you. For everything.