Jack Whitehall said that he does not walk across a stage, but he glides, and similarly, when Nigella Lawson beckons me to enter her paradisiacal and idealised world of culinary carnality, she isn’t simply showing me how to cook the perfect ‘prodigious pavlova’, but rather she is seducing me through the medium of her own self-styled food porn. With each silky smooth, alliterative utterance, I bow and worship at the altar of Nigella, for no other reason other than a self-induced devotion to this Domestic Goddess. The Gospel according to Nigella calls for gluttony, covetousness, decadence, and my favourite thing of all – excess.
My love for Nigella began when she gently guided me through the making of a chocolate cloud cake and steadily progressed when she mentioned slut’s spaghetti. By the time she offered me a chocolate cherry trifle, I had fallen for her hook, line and sinker. Obsessed might be a more apt word, but, as Oscar Wilde once said, “moderation is a fatal thing, nothing succeeds like excess.” And in the world of Nigella, nothing flourishes better than superabundance – from her well-stocked larder, right down to her lavishly verbose and implicitly sexual vocabulary.
Admittedly, there is something almost primal about my love/obsession for this woman. She is the culinary, bourgeois leader and I am the all-too-willing to acquiesce subject. She suggests her Flameware Tagine is an excellent kitchen apparatus for slow-roasting vegetables and within hours, I am confirming my order on Amazon for one in black. I’ll probably impulse buy a parmesan grater as well, because Nigella says it will cut the cheese into sandy rubble rather than aerated threads. At the minute, I’m trying to orchestrate a situation whereby I require a KitchenAid mixer, just like Nigella’s, but as a student, the opportunities for using one are few and far between. At this stage, it looks like my mother’s Christmas present will be a Farrow & Ball cream KitchenAid, just so I can excessively tweet Nigella about how alike we are.
What I really love about Nigella is her seemingly nonchalant effort to food and life. She tells us not to follow instructions or recipes slavishly, but rather to adapt and work with what you’ve got. She frequently tells us that she’s too lazy to peel her potato skins or that she’s using canned tomatoes, because they’re ‘just easier to deal with.’ It seems like everything is effortless for her, but this nonchalance is closely followed by her hilariously wild presumptions. I can only love her even more for thinking that everyone can pop into their expansive larder for some sugar craft poinsettia, or a dash of sumac. Nigella grew up as the daughter of an MP father, her mother who was an heiress and socialite, and she lives in a £12.3 million London home, so she can be forgiven if her notions of accessible kitchen accoutrements are decidedly grand.
However, what’s so appealing about Nigella is in fact, despite her apparently salubrious upbringing, she is wholeheartedly down-to-earth, completely unassuming and totally self-deprecating. She refutes the notion that she is a chef, claiming that she doesn’t have the training or skilful expertise to merit such a title. She says she simply cooks for pleasure and admits that, despite following her passion, she is somewhat self-indulgent. She may sugar-coat her recipes, but Nigella does not sugar-coat the truth. She’s refreshingly honest in an industry that is notoriously duplicitous.
If she’s too lazy to cook, she tells us. She confesses that the reason she doesn’t have to worry about what she eats is because she wears an elasticated waistband – which is a nice antidote to the usual celebrity spiel of “running after my kids keeps me fit.”
Of course, perhaps the most enticing attribute of this Domestic Goddess is her sui generis presenting style. Before Nigella, melted chocolate and butter was not a “mesmeric ravishing pool” and a pasta carbonara wasn’t “beautiful, pale and heavenly.” Yes, Nigella’s sensual and oftentimes evocative descriptions of food have become her celebrated trademark. They have even led to a top 10 innuendo countdown. As she sifts through flour, marvels at her “golden globules”, or talks about the “hint of inner thigh wibble” in a cheesecake, each time she cooks, Nigella presents a lesson on the sexuality of gastronomy.
As she smiles sadistically before she beats a chicken to death, she turns towards the camera and says, “I love and respect a chicken but for all that, I am going to behave pretty brutishly to it.” She is literally decapitating a chicken and she makes it look sexy. She is a gorgeous woman, but for me, her most appealing characteristic is definitely her propensity for verbosity. As she piles berries on top of a cake, she’ll declare, “How beautiful these juicy beaded blackberries look, glinting darkly out of that pale billowing duvet of cream.” Genius.
Nigella says that she never wanted to do TV and compared to her “initial, earnest self”, she has “ran away and joined the circus.” She has said that as a young journalist, she had great ambitions to write the major novel of the twentieth century and sort of “fell into food writing and presenting by accident.” It’s a fall I am duly grateful for. The word ‘fate’ is bantied around too freely these days, but surely Nigella Lawson was in some way, predestined for life of gastronomic sexuality.
Who else can make her Marigolds look like Agent Provocateur’s finest or tempt one to spend hundreds on relatively expendable kitchen gadgets? But if Nigella says a spoon rest is an essential kitchen utensil, I’ll take two – in high-gloss cream and shiny red, please. The beauty of Nigella Lawson is that from the outside, her world seems highly idealised. No measurements or definitions are needed. Everything is relaxed and casual and punctuated by mood lighting. Even if the private Nigella is antithetical to the perceived Domestic Goddess figure, it doesn’t really matter, because, idealism, like obsession is an addiction and Nigella inspires blind devotion.