Ms Lawson was in top form at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh last month on a book tour for the 20th anniversary of her debut cookbook, How to Eat. The pews and rafters brimmed with all-walks of buffs, aficionados, and amateur cooks, eager to revisit her culinary journey. However, it was this discussion of her legacy that proved most interesting during the course of the talk.
Nigella Lawson has a way with words and even this is an understatement. She built her career not so much on recipes, but on the words that inspired them, bounded by the storytelling she wove into them. She speaks, or rather, thinks, with her hands, grasping for words midair and endlessly rubbing the tips of her fingers. She tells the audience childhood stories of sticky butterscotch delight and Sunday porridge, laced with cream, brown sugar, and golden syrup. All of this is to say that when Nigella Lawson speaks, people listen.
Lawson’s legacy, tempered by the passage of time, was the focal point of the evening. She partook in a round of Q&A with Scottish food writer Sue Lawrence about the impact of How to Eat on both her life and the greater world of food. She stated clearly in her opening response, “the food we eat reflects time as we were then, what was important then.” Thumbing through the book, for instance, one can see chapters titled ‘Low Fat’ and ‘Feeding Babies and Small Children’ which not only provide any insight into Nigella then but also indicate how her recipes have evolved with her.
Lawson talked out how food is a repository of memory, from wistful chambermaid days in Florence, from learning how to cook proper Bolognese from a Nonna to the late 90s when she found her niche eschewing the rise of haute cuisine in Britain, in favour of simple home cooking for the masses. Nigella then touches on her current projects. We hear a few words about her relationship with Instagram, which she thinks enhances her connection with her readers, as a ‘two-way’ conversation, and then a few more about her involvement with MasterChef Australia, which she states is innocent of the frenetic pace which typifies the genre.
Ordinarily verbose, Nigella is ever-so taken aback with a question about what kind of world we might inhabit upon the 40th anniversary of her book, to which Ms Lawrence expands, “perhaps there may be a backlash against clean eating?” Nigella hedges, before evoking Newton’s third law. In our quest for clean, she states, we really turn to chemical additives hiding behind gluten-free and vegan labels. To an extent, that is true. No, additives won’t nourish the body, and home-cooked food is superlative to not, but what is our alternative?
Nigella voluntarily mentions veganism in her response, giving credence to the normative power and awareness that is percolating within in the industry. With that in mind though, veganism is not what Nigella built her brand around nor was it the purpose of the tour. The evening was a reflection of the past, not so much one of the future, but there is never harm in considering alternative ways to doing things, even at the sake of tradition.
Image Credit: chuvaness via Flickr