We sat down with British cookbook author and television host Nigella Lawson about her love of food, cooking, and the inspiration behind her new cookbook, At My Table. Read on to learn more about her approach to cooking, what her favorite food is, the secret behind her pavlova recipe, exclusive to Williams Sonoma.
1. What’s your overall philosophy and approach to cooking?
I’m not sure my approach deserves such a high-falutin’ term as ‘philosophy’, but I suppose broadly I went into food writing to champion the home cook, to speak for those of us who see cooking in terms of taste and flavor, not technique. Food is about many things – culture, family, history, the emotional connections we forge, and, crucially, pleasure. I believe that it is essential to try and make cooking as pleasurable as eating, and that means finding a way to make it easier in the context of a real life, in a real kitchen. I do not cook complicated food, but I believe fervently that simple processes can lead to great complexity of flavor.
2. How has your cooking evolved over the years?
The manifesto behind my first book is still very much the approach that underpins my latest – after all, its subtitle is A Celebration of Home Cooking. However, over the years, I have eaten more widely, tasted new (or new to me) ingredients, tried foods from other cultures, and I see the home kitchen as a wonderful way of exploring different flavors, assimilating new ideas, and playing with perhaps unfamiliar ingredients, but always within the context of easily achievable, accessible dishes.
So much of what I cook comes from my past, my childhood, but cooking is not rigid and fixed. I feel that home cooking is a wonderful way of combining the comfort of the familiar with the excitement of the new. And by new, I do not mean chasing novelty for its own sake, or learning a whole new language of cooking, but just extending our culinary vocabulary, without losing our pleasure in old favorites. It’s a simple approach that doesn’t rely on fancy techniques or restaurant-chef expertise. And at its heart, it’s about cooking as a source of pleasure, not performance art!
3. What’s your favorite food ever?
I think that may be an impossible question to answer for a greedy person! I’m not sure there is any one sort of food that I prize over any other. So much of what I love about eating is the memories that lie behind the food as well. But if it were choosing my last meal on earth, chicken would have to feature. Roast chicken is for me the most glorious taste of home cooking. And while I love a plain roast chicken, just with butter and lemon, I do also adore its glorious variety, and At My Table is full of chicken recipes that make me happy.
4. What was the inspiration for your new cookbook?
I wanted to celebrate the creativity of home cooking. So often people talk of chefs as being inventive and creative and somehow relegate home cooking. And while I admire so many chefs, and have been inspired by them, I relish the relative freedom of the home cook, and feel that the sort of food people eat at home, rather than in restaurants, is just so much more pleasurable.
5. What’s your favorite recipe from At My Table and why?
I have so many favorites. I don’t believe it is possible to have just one favorite: on different days, in different moods, any one of the recipes from At My Table. And right now I could proffer my Chicken and Pea Traybake, which I have cooked more times than I could count, and ditto my Turkish Eggs, which is a brunch dish I often have for supper. But I am going to nominate my Rose and Pepper Pavlova with Strawberries and Passionfruit.
Whenever I have friends over for supper, I know that this will make everyone happy. And if I have to bring dessert to someone else’s house, I often bake the base, bring it along with the cream to whip, and the strawberries cut up in their passionfruit marinade and assemble it on site. It is just glorious. And pavlova is just not as known in the States as it should be. It is my glad duty to bring it to your attention.