StopSmiling

Buy + Browse Back Issues

ONLINE EXCLUSIVES

eMailing List

  • Name
  • Email
EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

Domestic Goddess: NIGELLA LAWSON

Highlights from 20 Interviews (2007)

Nigella Lawson / Photograph by JP MASCLET

EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The following piece appears in the second annual 20 Interviews issue.
Click here to purchase 20 Interviews


DOMESTIC GODDESS: NIGELLA LAWSON

BY JENNIFER OLVERA

"For much of the female half of the world, food is the first signal of our inferiority. It lets us know that our own families may consider female bodies to be less deserving, less needy, less valuable."

Gloria Steinem

If awards were given out on the basis of shiny hair, lustrous-locked Nigella Lawson — the doe-eyed British food mistress — would win handily. If cred was based solely on word use — the kind that allows you to envision the perfect trifle without a single slick — then she, too, would come in first.

Radiant complexion, tumble of hair and on-camera cleavage-glimpses aside, a linguistically skilled Lawson wants — scratch that, demands — to be taken seriously. She’s no hausfrau, after all.

Lawson’s shtick (if you can call it that) veers away from the notion that deprivation and self-control in the low-fat, sensible cooking sense is the benchmark of healthy living. Instead, decadence, in its lushest, truest form, is what she’s about — and she won’t be vilified for it, or her uncanny ability to get audiences hot and bothered.

Lest you be fooled by cookbook titles like How to Be a Domestic Goddess, know that Lawson is an educated woman. She isn’t a Martha Stewart fuddy-duddy, and she doesn’t even watch her own “cookery” shows. (She finds the idea loathsome.) She slices and dices not because she has to but because it has been — particularly during life’s tougher times — a deep source of comfort. Before losing her first husband to throat cancer in 2001, Lawson’s mother died of liver cancer in 1985; her sister Thomasina died in her 30s of breast cancer in 1993. Whipping up the perfect pancetta-studded pasta or pomegranate-laced pavlova, while seemingly trivial, was her way of staying afloat.

“To be honest, cooking is the only domestic activity I do,” Lawson said from her home in England. “The problem is, cooking was downplayed for so long simply because women did it. When chefs became big, they were men — and they were being paid. It was all rock ’n’ roll and fabulous. But as a cook at home, she had no status because she wasn’t being paid. I felt that was wrong.”

Equally problematic for Lawson was the female backlash to all things “wifely.”

“So many women claim they ‘don’t cook’ because they’re feminists,” she said. “Personally, I hate to be helpless. Cooking for yourself is a way to be independent, to [avoid] relying on an external force like a restaurant or shop for sustenance.”

But, to be fair, not everyone can make a spatchcocked poussin or unapologetic midnight snarf of cheesecake seem so sexy. It’s — along with the slim-fitting cashmere twin sets she dons — who she is. “I only have one voice,” she said, referring, perhaps, to the not-always-friendly media flurry surrounding her. “I babble and I cook. Nothing is going to change about that.”

Still, hers isn’t a clawing-her-way-up-the-ranks kind of story. Daughter of one-time Conservative cabinet minister (and namesake) Lord Nigel Lawson and the late, lovely socialite and heir to the Lyons Corner House fortune Vanessa Salmon, the unsuspecting foodie came from considerable means.

Among the childhood memories she holds dear: When asked what she would like for her seventh birthday, a spunky Lawson replied, “I want to have fish served by a waiter.”

Back then, food — particularly in Britain — was not considered chic. People were not especially discerning about what they ate, nor were they interested in talking about it. Likewise, a young Lawson hadn’t the inclination to wax poetic about the matter because eating was merely something she endured.

“In childhood, you have very little control over [what you eat], and as a child, I really didn’t eat at all,” she lamented. “So, it wasn’t until my teens — when I was at boarding school and the food was quite bad — that I became wistful for home cooking. For me, this was nostalgia for a childhood I didn’t have.”

In the end, Lawson came to like food rather spontaneously. She began cutting out recipes from magazines and newspapers and started requesting recipes for dishes she had enjoyed eating. At 15, Lawson went on exchange to live with a French family. There, she helped Madame shop for and prepare dishes like rabbit stew and braised pigeon. She returned with a desire to apply her newly honed skills — if only because they were things she did on her own. “Confidence breeds competence,” she said.

EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

© 2010 Stop Smiling Media, LLC. All rights reserved.       // Site created by: FreshForm Interactive