Noshing With Nigella

Best-selling author and British television personality Nigella Lawson, who has appeared on programs in more than 20 countries around the world, comes to Food Network for the first time in her career. Lawson brings her unique signature style to home cooking in Nigella Feasts, where she explores the world of cooking with a refreshing sensibility because Lawson, like many of her viewers, has neither a culinary degree nor the time to make extravagant feasts. Nigella Feasts comes off of the stove and onto viewers’ tables beginning Sunday, Oct. 1.

What do you think people find most surprising about your style and approach to cooking?

Nigella Lawson: I’d presume the thing that surprises most people is my absolute amateurishness and, worse, clumsiness! Most people, perhaps all others, who cook on TV are professionals; they’re very deft and have virtuoso technique. I have no training, I am not a chef, I am just a home cook, and a busy, impatient home cook to boot, who loves food and loves to make easy things to eat. There’s nothing else; I’m not being modest, I’m being honest. I think people tend to expect anyone on TV to be an expert, and perhaps it surprises them that I’m not an expert but an enthusiast. My only wish is to convey that enthusiasm.

With so many shows and personalities now centered on cooking and enjoying food, how do you differentiate “Nigella Feasts” from the others?

Well, I want to underline that I don’t see myself as a personality, but as a person, and the food I cook, the way I talk about it, think about it, and prepare it, all stem from the kind of person I am: greedy, impatient, spontaneous. That’s how it has to be, and so I couldn’t “do” someone else’s program, someone else’s food. I can only be me — as a presenter and a cook. It surprises me that with the wealth of trained professionals out there, I — with no training at all — can be cooking on TV, but I do think that means the viewer can identify honestly with me, as I do with my viewers. I feel that when I write a recipe, I am writing in the same context that my readers read, or my viewers live. I am busy, have a job, have children; I can’t do food that needs enormous quantities of time, effort or expertise. I need recipes that fit into the context of a real life. I’m not after perfection. I love watching others do things perfectly, but I know it’s not for me. Also, I really love home food to be home food, not fancy restaurant fare.

Can you give us some examples of “spa snacks,” which one of your episodes is covering?

I’ve got a gorgeous, super-healthful avocado, spinach and pumpkinseed salad and a jewel-bright antioxidant fruit salad, and a lot, lot more, but I don’t want to say everything now. With eating, a lot of the pleasure lies in the act, but the joy of anticipation is important, too, so I will do you a favor and delay your full gratification …

What are three spices you couldn’t live without and why?

That’s a hard one, just three. I’d have to start with cinnamon: the smell is instant comfort, instant home. I also could not live without chili: I adore heat. And I would be very sad if I couldn’t ever cook with cumin again. I use it so often to give depth and subtle muskiness.

Do your kids take hot lunch or cold?

My daughter has lunch cooked by her school, for which I am inordinately grateful, but my son takes a lunch with him. I find I do cold food more than hot, as it’s difficult to make sure hot food keeps at the right temperature. Plus, there have been too many accidents with spilt soup and so on! I would prefer him to eat a hot lunch, so I am not altogether happy about the situation, but I try and provide food that is healthy and varied and that will keep a growing boy going.

It’s your child’s birthday; what kind of birthday treat do you send in to school?

When it’s one of the children’s birthdays I bring out the cupcakes. They’re easy to make, fun to decorate, and the kids love them.

With so many cookbooks you’ve authored, I know this is going to be tough, but you must have a handful of favorite recipes that you go back to more frequently than others — what would those be and where can viewers/readers access them?

Well, we all have recipes we turn to again and again, and certainly the one-pan chicken and sausage roast competes for pole position here in my life. I cook it in Nigella Feasts, so it will be on the Food Network website []. Nothing matches that for frequency on the table in my house, though my spaghetti carbonara, also in the series and thus on the website, certainly gives it a good run for its money. On the whole, I tend to fiddle with familiar recipes a lot, so they are the same but different. I think that’s the joy of cooking: one can follow a reassuring pattern but be creative, spontaneous, and go off in new directions.

Any new books or other ventures in store in the near future?

Oh, I always have new ventures, a book that’s bubbling away on the back burner for example, another TV series that’s just being mixed up in my head, but I like to let everything simmer for a good long time before bringing it to the table.

Bloopers are always fun — have any good stories to share on a meal or dish that went horribly wrong?

I have set fires to kitchens, have had a roast lamb go into flames, had salt containers break as I added the salt so that dishes were inedible (almost anything is rectifiable, save vicious over-salting). With those dramatic exceptions, though, I try to be accepting of my errors: sometimes you think something has gone wrong and it tastes better than you had intended. In cooking you just have to know when to follow the rules, and when you must just go with the flow — a lot like life, really.