Chef of the week: NIGELLA LAWSON


Nigella Lucy Lawson (born 6 January 1960) is an English food writer, journalist and broadcaster. After graduating from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, Lawson started work as a book reviewer and restaurant critic, later becoming the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986

After her stint at The Sunday Times, Lawson embarked upon a freelance writing career. In the United Kingdom, she wrote for The Daily Telegraph, the Evening StandardThe Observer and The Times Literary Supplement, and penned a food column for Vogue and a makeup column for The Times Magazine, as well as working with Gourmet and Bon Appétit in the United States. After two weeks working on Talk Radio in 1995, Lawson was sacked after she had stated her shopping was done for her, which was deemed incompatible with the radio station’s desired “common touch”.

 1998–2002: Cookbook writing and Nigella Bites

Lawson had an established sense of cooking from her childhood, having had a mother who enjoyed to cook. She conceived the idea of writing a cookbook after observing a dinner party host in tears because of an unset crème caramel. How to Eat was subsequently written in 1998, featuring culinary tips on preparation and saving time. The book became a success and sold 300,000 copies in the UK; The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it “the most valuable culinary guide published this decade”.

Lawson then wrote How to be a Domestic Goddess in 2000, which focused primarily on baking and also became a bestseller. The book sold 180,000 copies in four months, and won Lawson the title of Author of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2001, fending off competition from authors such as J. K. RowlingHow to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess were published in America in 2000 and 2001. As a result of the book’s success, The Observer took on Lawson as a social affairs columnist.

     Lawson next hosted her own cooking show television series, Nigella Bites, which ran from 1999 to 2001 on Channel 4, followed by a Christmas special in 2001. The first series of Nigella Bites averaged 1.9 million viewers, and won her the Television Broadcast of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards and the Best Television Food Show at the World Food Media Awards in 2001. The show yielded an accompanying bestselling recipe book, also called Nigella Bites, for which Waterstone’s book stores reported UK sales of over 300,000. It also won a W H Smith Award for Lifestyle Book of the Year.

     The Nigella Bites series, which was filmed in her home in west London, was later broadcast on American television on channels E! and Style Network. Lawson said of the US release, “In the UK, my viewers have responded to the fact I’m trying to reduce, not add to, their burden and I’m looking forward to making that connection with Style viewers across the US”. Overall, she was well received in the United States. Those who did criticise her often suggested she was too flirtatious; a commentator from The New York Times said, “Lawson’s sexy roundness mixed with her speed-demon technique makes cooking dinner with Nigella look like a prelude to an orgy”. The book of Nigella Bites became the second bestselling cook book of Christmas 2002 in America. The series was followed by Forever Summer with Nigella in 2002 on Channel 4, the concept being, “that you cook to make you still feel as though you’re on holiday”.

     Also in 2002, she began to write a fortnightly cooking articles for The New York Times, and brought out a profitable line of kitchenware, called the Living Kitchen range, which is sold by numerous retailers. Her range’s value has continued to grow, starting at an estimated £2 million in 2003, and increasing to £7 million in 2007.

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     2003–2006: Nigella Feasts and BBC contract

In November 2003, Lawson oversaw the menu and preparations for a lunch hosted by Tony Blair at Downing Street for George W. Bush and his wife during their state visit to the UK. Laura Bush is said to be a fan of Lawson’s recipes and once included one of her soups as the starter for the 2002 presidential Christmas dinner. Lawson’s fifth book, Feast Food that Celebrates Life, released in 2004, made sales worth £3 million. London’s Evening Standard wrote that the book “works both as a practical manual and an engrossing read. … Nobody else writes so openly about the emotional significance of food”. She appeared frequently on American television in 2004, conducting cookery slots on talk shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

In the UK in 2005, Lawson started to host a daytime television chat show on ITV1 called Nigella, on which celebrity guests joined her in a studio kitchen. The show was met with a largely negative critical reaction, and after losing 40 percent of its viewers in the first week, it was cancelled. Lawson later commented in an interview with Radio Times that on her first show, she was almost too frightened to come out of her dressing room. Lawson further stated that having to pretend to be interested in the lives of the celebrities on her show became too much of an effort. She also discovered, “I can’t ever be a presenter, and won’t do scripts”.

Her third food-based television series, called Nigella Feasts, debuted on the USA’s Food Network in Autumn 2006 for a 13-week run. Time magazine wrote a favorable review of the show; “the real appeal of Feasts … is her unfussy, wry, practical approach to entertaining and quality comfort food. … between the luscious camera shots and Lawson’s sensual enjoyment of eating, Feasts will leave you wishing for an invite”. Since the American broadcasting, Lawson signed a £2.5 million deal for the series to be shown in ten other countries across the world.

Lawson was next signed to BBC Two to host a three-part cookery show entitled Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen, which began on 6 December 2006 and aired weekly. The first two episodes secured the second highest ratings of the week for BBC Two, with the first episode debuting with a strong 3.5 million. The final episode went on to become the top show on BBC Two the week that it was aired. Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen won Lawson a second World Food Media Award in 2007. Her influence as a food commentator was also demonstrated in late 2006, when after she had lauded goose fat as being an essential ingredient for Christmas, sales percentages of the product increased significantly in the UK. Waitrose and Tesco both stated that goose fat sales had more than doubled, as well as Asda’s goose fat sales increasing by 65 percent from the previous week. Similarly, after she advised using prunes in a recipe on Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen, Waitrose had increased sales of 30 percent year on year.

2007–2009: Nigella Express and Nigella’s Christmas

Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen led to the commissioning of a 13-part cookery series entitled Nigella Express. The series began to air on BBC Two on 3 September 2007, suggesting ways of making simple and quick dishes. The show became another ratings success and one of BBC Two’s top-rated shows each week. Her influence with the public was again demonstrated when sales of Riesling wine increased by 30 percent in the UK after she had incorporated it into her Coq au Riesling recipe on Nigella Express. Later on a separate occasion, a similar trend was seen in the sales figures of the liqueur Advocaat after Lawson had endorsed it on the show.

The television series of Nigella Express was subject to criticism from the Daily Mail when it emerged that a bus Lawson was seen travelled by saying, “This series is a factual entertainment cooking show, not an observational documentary and it is perfectly normal procedure”. There was further controversy when it was revealed that the kitchens in which Lawson was seen cooking were in two separate locations; one in her home and the other in a London television studio. She also came under criticism when viewers complained that she had gained weight since the debut episode of the series. The Guardian however, noted, “the food matches her appearance — flawless, polished and sexy”. The rights to Nigella Express have been sold to the Food Network in America, and to Discovery Asia. The series was nominated at the 35th Daytime Emmy Awards in the United States for Outstanding Lifestyle Program, and Lawson herself for the Outstanding Lifestyle Host.

     The accompanying book to Nigella Express was released in the UK in September 2007, America in November 2007, and later in Australia in 2008. It became another bestseller in the UK, and was outselling another television chef, Jamie Oliver, by 100,000 copies according to Waterstone’s. Over 490,000 copies had been sold by mid-December in the UK. It was also number one for a period on Amazon UK’s bestselling books, and was ninth on their overall list of Christmas bestsellers in any category. Lawson is now estimated to have sold more than 3 million books worldwide. Her Christmas book was released in October 2008 and the television show in December of the same year. An American edition of the book Nigella Christmas with a different cover photograph was released in November 2009 with an accompanying book tour of several US cities and a special on the USA’s Food Network.

     Presenting style and image

Though Lawson has enjoyed a successful career in cookery, she is not a trained chef, and does not like being referred to as a “celebrity chef”. Furthermore, she doesn’t see herself as a cook or an expert in her field. Throughout Lawson’s television programmes, she emphasises that she cooks for her own pleasure, for enjoyment, and that she finds cooking therapeutic. When deciding upon which recipes to feature in her books, she takes the view of the eater, stating, “If it’s something I don’t want to carry on eating once I’m full, then I don’t want the recipe… I have to feel that I want to cook the thing again”.

Lawson has adopted a casual approach to cooking, stating, “I think cooking should be about fun and family. … I think part of my appeal is that my approach to cooking is really relaxed and not rigid. There are no rules in my kitchen”. One editor, highlighting the technical simplicity of Lawson’s recipes, noted that “her dishes require none of the elaborate preparation called for by most TV chefs”.

She has become renowned for her flirtatious manner of presenting, although she argues, “It’s not meant to be flirtatious. … I don’t have the talent to adopt a different persona. It’s intimate, not flirtatious”. The perceived overt sexuality of her presentation style has led to Lawson’s being called the “queen of food porn”. She was once named as one of the world’s most beautiful women and has been referred to as “stunningly beautiful, warm, honest, likeable and amazingly normal”, as well as being described as having “flawless skin, perfect white teeth, a voluptuous body, ample height and lots of lush, brown hair”. The media has also noted Lawson’s ability to engage with both male and female viewers; The Guardian wrote, “Men love her because they want to be with her. Women love her because they want to be her”. The chef, Gary Rhodes, spoke out against Lawson by suggesting that her viewers are attracted to her smile rather than the cooking itself. Despite often being labelled as a domestic goddess, she insists that she exhibits very few of the qualities associated with the title.

Lawson is also known for her vivid and adjective-filled food descriptions in both her books and television programmes, as one critic summarized, “her descriptions of food can be a tangle of adjectives.” In a study conducted in 2007 on the readability of different recipes, the chatty and florid style of Lawson’s recipes was judged to be confusing to readers with weak reading skills. She has also expressed her surprise at how many reviews in the United States have mentioned her class and posh accent.

Comedians and commentators have taken to mocking Lawson’s style of presentation, particularly in a regularly occurring impersonation of her in the BBC comedy series Dead Ringers, because they perceive that she plays overtly upon her attractiveness and sexuality as a device to engage viewers of her cookery programmes. Impressions by Ronni Ancona that further parodied Lawson’s presenting style have also been featured on the BBC One impersonation sketch show, The Big Impression.

Despite of all the critics, no one can deny the influence of Nigella Lawson to the public and culinary world. Her recipes are seducing millions cooking lovers and inspiring them to spend more time in the kitchen. For more details on her recipes, kitchenware range or her latest activities, check out her official website: http://www.nigella.com.

Source: nigella.com, Wikipedia, Google 

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3 comments

  1. Karen · August 4, 2012

    Enjoyed the post…many things I didn’t know.

  2. Pingback: Quick tip: Nice Italian finishing touch to pasta « Trang Quynh

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