She’s arguably the domestic goddess of our time and can turn the seemingly innocuous task of hulling a punnet of strawberries into, well, something a little more alluring. She’s Nigella Lawson – journalist, critic, author, cook, mother and ardent foodie.
“When I was 16 or so, I went to Paris – more because of the travel rather than food really - and I was fascinated in how the French cooked,” Ms Lawson says of her first independent foray into food.
“I remember I was taken out to eat at Galeries Lafayette and I tasted their fromage bleu, which was so simple and delicious. And I saw this world that was just fantastic. Then when I went to live in Italy, I started getting interested in reading about food because even though my mother cooked a lot, there were never any cookery books. So I began to read cookery books and the whole subject became interesting to me.”
Born into a refined family – her father is a baron and was chancellor of the exchequer to Margaret Thatcher while her mother was heiress to a business empire – Nigella had a somewhat conflicted relationship with food while growing up.
“Well, I will say something that will give a lot of encouragement to parents with children who don’t eat,” she says.
“I had not only no interest in food as a small child, but I really hated mealtimes and I didn’t eat at all. So when people say to me, ‘my children won’t eat’ I say ‘Well, look at me, it can change!’.
“I come from a family who are intensely involved in food, and when I was very young I wasn’t interested, but that was probably because I was brought up very strictly. It was ‘you will eat this and if you don’t finish it you will sit there until it’s cold and it will be brought back the next day’. It was that sort of way. There was no food-hiding – my mother had complete laser-vision. But I did get interested in food, and I had no idea it would become my life.”
In Australia for a quick stint at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival last weekend, Ms Lawson is excited to be back in the country.
“I’ve previously been to Sydney as well as to Queensland, where I went on a boat through the Whitsundays with the kids. But I haven’t been to Melbourne before”, she says.
And would she like to come to Western Australia? We have truffles..
“I would love to. Why I’m not traveling much on this visit is because I’ve left the kids at home, so I’ve kept it short. But they loved Australia, and I’d love to do more traveling. The thing is, it’s such a huge country so you’ve got to have time. I love the huge sky of Australia, and the light. So you call it WA over there, then, and not Western Australia? You’re going to have to map me out an itinerary and tell me when’s the best time to go. I don’t like intense heat. I would have to wear a hat and a sunscreen factor of one hundred. Oh god, I can’t wait. Go on, fire away, I’m too busy planning my holiday now.”
Nigella has sold millions of cookbooks and her many television series are broadcast in countries all over the world. Now, she feels, it’s time to re-stock.
“I’m not working as hard in terms of filming and writing books at the moment so I can go away,” she says.
“If I did a book and a series every year, I’d have to be re-introduced to my children and I wouldn’t have a proper life. And the whole point of what I do is because it’s part of my life. My books come out of how I live my life, so if I make it all about the work, then that would make me feel it was the wrong way round. So it’s nice for me to be at home, cooking. And at the moment I’ve got other things to do. And no doubt I’ll go back inspired by some of the food I’ve eaten here in Australia, and that’s how recipes come about, by cooking meals that I don’t know. And just revelling in the luck that I can be pottering about the kitchen and pretend it’s work.”
Ms Lawson was the headlining act of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival last week. She shared some kitchen bench space with Western Australia’s own seductive cook, Anna Gare.