Nigella Lawson Bit Me!

"For us northern Europeans, sun starvation for much of the year means the constant craving for warmth," she says in her luscious English accent. "A taste of anything red," she notes, "instantly conjures the decadence of an August heat wave. A taste of raspberry, and I'm there in an instant! And chillies are crucial to the palette when recreating the heat of summer. The spice brings food to incendiary life."

I fell in love with Nigella Lawson the moment she spoke those words, lounging on a white chaise, sipping some fruity concoction called "slut-red raspberries steeped in chardonnay." Not the most heterosexual of men, I still happily concede that I find Ms. Lawson - an English food writer and television hostess - utterly sensual and attractive, something that is not lost on her legions of followers. In fact, her sensual delivery and presentation is intrinsically linked to her entire persona. The full lips, the buxom figure, the languorous vowels of her posh, Highgate accent, the bouncy brown locks and the insistent use of her hands while preparing even the stickiest of foods make her irresistible to any foodie who is even remotely human.

Her upperclass upbringing in London and the ivy-league education it afforded her combined to make Nigella Lawson one of the most respected and articulate food writers of our time - her feminine wiles aside. The author of seven cookbooks, including the indespensible classic "How to Eat," Nigella creates visual and edible delights on the pages, which are filled with food philosophy and a roster of easy and delicious recipes to accompany the sumptuous photography.

A comparison, of course, must be drawn between Nigella and Martha, since this is a Martha Stewart blog. I don't think I can stress enough how different they really are, despite their shared love of food, their careers as food writers and television hostesses, their love of entertaining and their somewhat vain "it's-actually-about-me" approach to presentation.

First of all, Nigella has no desire to create an 'empire' of domestic goods and publications that bear her name - although she does have some. She mostly limits herself to food and entertaining: no laundry care and craft projects for her. Martha, on the other hand, is much more an executive, and therefore more calculating and strategic in her plans, not to mention more diverse in her talents.
Every Sunday now at 4:30 I find myself rivited to the television set, watching Nigella's program, Nigella Bites, on the Food Network. It's the same kind of mild obsession I experienced when I first discovered Martha's show, Martha Stewart Living, eleven or twelve years ago. I'm not a cooking-show aficionado by any means, so it's a rare event when one of them hooks me to the point of addiciton, when I cannot miss an episode under any circumstances and refuse to be interrupted for the duration of the show.

I used to think that watching Martha Stewart Living was like watching ''homemaker porn" - a term coined by Business Week writer Diane Brady - but watching Nigella Bites takes it to a whole new level. Where Martha is exacting and almost prim in her preparation and delivery methods, Nigella throws caution to the wind, sinking her hands into a canister of brown sugar and sprinkling it liberally over some sizzling hot peaches. The production of her show, too, is almost profane: uber-closeups of molten chocolate drizzling over homemade ice cream, partially melting in the afternoon sunlight streaming from her kitchen window sheers; tight shots of ravenous champagne bubbles devouring plump strawberries plunged into a sparkling glass, and almost naughty depictions of Nigella's hands squeezing the juice out of a lemon onto the crispy body of a trussed-up, roasted chicken. All the while, softly in the background, there is steamy salsa music playing, keeping the pace motivated and unpredictable.

I'm never going to abandon Martha with her endless ideas and fascinating life. But I will be making room for Nigella's rambunctious presence in my living room and kitchen from now on, thank you very much.


Pru said...

Oh Andrew! No!

Nigella was great at the beginning but now she is awful. So over the top - the last series that I watched was based on Christmas and most of the things she did were from the local deli! Whilst she is a dream with all that flowing hair, and seductive charm of licking her fingers after dipping them in the cake mixture, she does not hold a candle to Martha. That said, her chocolate cake with a million calories is glorious and you must make it as soon as possible.


louisj80 said...

I love Nigella she seems so down-to-earth and not full of herself. She is a beautiful woman and makes beautiful food!


Pru, she is indeed a dream! I think that's where the fascination comes from. And I'm a sucker for good food production on television. As I say in the post, Martha and Nigella are strikingly different and Martha will always be my mainstay. But Nigella is my kitchen's Madam X!

Percy Chatsworth said...


Anonymous said...

Gotta disagree with you on this one, Andrew. Lawson never made the successful transition stateside, her shows having been pulled from the Food Network long ago. Although I think she may still have one on the Style Network. Perhaps it's different in Canada, with its close cultural ties to Britain. I see her as a dillitante; someone who sort of stumbled into the job at the right time in culinary history. I either cringe or squrim while watching her shows, her lack of skill is so obvious, and her recipes are often devoid of fresh ingredients. Her untidiness is downright unappetizing and strange. As Pru said, her "act" is really over the top and purely for effect - enough already with the licking of the fingers! Sheesh, she's been doing that for years, and it further reinforces the stereotype of the English having poor kitchen hygiene habits a la, cigarette butts in the tea cups, newpapers piled on the table, etc. I will say this about her shows - they have very good production values. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Barefoot Contessa used the same production crew, at least at the begining.


Percy, I don't think I have the strength!

Percy Chatsworth said...

Ooops, I meant, NigellaNuggets.blogspot.com.