Nigella Lawson @ Manchester Literature Festival
At this year’s Manchester Literature Festival, Nigella Lawson discussed the pleasures of cooking, eating and writing – three fundamentals to life which have influenced us all as well as the cook herself. What made this experience so much more special was being allowed to sit in on a conversation between Nigella Lawson and an old friend, Jeanette Winterson. Their glorious friendship glowed off the stage. It created an atmosphere so warm, the talk was all the more beautifully charming. It was from this panel that she spoke about her new book, At My Table, a book which would only fall short at its marvel if to be solely described as a recipe book. At My Table not only offers new insights into cooking, but as a book it digs deeper; it is rich with stories waiting to be told. Her gorgeously husky voice resonates around the room. You want to sit on the sofa by the fire on a crisp chilly winter evening and listen to her tales.
Her gorgeously husky voice resonates around the room. You want to sit on the sofa by the fire on a crisp chilly winter evening and listen to her tales. For Nigella, food is not just a fuel for our bodies;
‘Food is a metaphor for life’– Nigella Lawson
‘Life is complicated, cooking doesn’t have to be’. – Nigella Lawson
One of her most famous lines is: ‘I’m not a chef. I’m not even a trained or professional cook. My qualification is as an eater’. Nigella has an endearing air about her. Her humility and honestly makes people feel cooking doesn’t have to be a skill which one acquires; the kitchen can be a space where we explore and create. Your ingredients become your tools, the paints which you use to craft into something beautiful. What is so appealing about Nigella’s teachings is how she puts herself on a non-professional level. You feel through the way she instructs you are leaning from a friend or family member, not a scholar, teacher, or lecturer.
She in fact doesn’t see herself as a chef, for: ‘as a chef you are excited by conflict. You’re driven by it. The kitchen becomes a place highly charged, and somewhat dangerous! For a cook however, we almost wrestle with ingredients. Well, I suppose this notion is something both do in fact do. But for a chef it is about power. A cook will be on the same side as its ingredients; while a chef is trying to be the master of them. This is why I would say I’m a cook, rather than a chef. A chef must have rules, everything must look the same and be prepared to a time and under a pressure. A cook needs no skills set. There is a freedom in home cooking, which I love’.
This is what I love so much about Nigella: how much she puts into cooking and how much she takes out of it as well. For Nigella, to cook is a lifestyle. She’s takes the chore of cooking and expands it, adds layers to it: it is more than a basic human necessity for survival. Cooking is an art; an art which she has such passion for and this ensues in the way she speaks about food.
‘It’s meaning is in the process’
Her books are so unique. There is a rich depth to them. The ooze with love and passion. Whether or not you like the look of her recipes, you can’t help but fall in love with her stories. She herself describes her new book a ‘collection of stories or memories’. In At My Table, cooking comes hand in hand with heritage; it is tradition and memory. She creates an entire world around coking. A recipe is more than instruction; it is a story. She delves into culture and travel, exploring how food brings people together where language cannot. There is such a sincere element to the love one has for food, and this is a fact Nigella revels in. The table becomes a place we can reminisce, and her book is an authentic love, of food, stories, people, and memory.
‘Enjoy every element of food when you cook, like with life’
For me, Nigella is more than a woman who is good in the kitchen. She is an icon: a symbol of womanhood. She embodies everything every woman should preoccupy their mind with: love, enjoyment, passion, nature, and nurture. Not these fad diets or the modern-day obsession with the ‘skinny figure’ look. Not a size 0 or skinny jeans which tighten your stomach into a knot. Not the girls you see all over Instagram with chizzled faces, defined jaw lines, ab lines down their unnaturally flat stomachs. Girls who are afraid of curves unless they are the ‘right kind of curves’. A fashion craze which is not sustainable or healthy. All bodies are different, and it is painful to see that only one shape is glamorised in our modern-day media.
Yes, some people are naturally petite. But some are naturally bustier, have large thighs, a tummy that doesn’t fall is one flat line. Fat is a part of the human body: it is one of the most natural parts within the human make-up. All men and women have it; just like they have bones and blood vessels and organs that keep us alive. Yet, we are made to think fat is something we should shun because of the derogatory terms we associate wit with. The bingo wings, the muffin top, saddle backs…
Nigella, however, is a refreshing symbol of femininity in its most traditional, irresistible, and natural form. She eats! And preaches about cooking and food and eating and enjoying it; because eating fuels the body and gives us pleasure. She makes food something to love, not be feared. Nigella is typically known as being a sex symbol: The Domestic Goddess. But I think, this term falls short of her talents and beauty. Aside from her aesthetic beauty, there is an attractiveness about her which is so much more raw: her passionate nature and true womanhood is desirable.
Nigella is a woman who makes you feel you could be vulnerable with, and she wouldn’t judge you. You could show your stretch marks, your cellulite, your wrinkles. All these natural parts of a human that modernity has taken, chewed up and spat back out again and labelled ‘imperfect’, and she wouldn’t turn a blind eye. Why would she? It’s something normal and mundane that we all have, just like teeth and nails. No one is ashamed to show these parts on our body, so why should a bit of cellulite be any different?
Details of the last few events at the Manchester Literature Festival can be found on their website: http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/events