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Nigella Lawson is a British food writer and television personality who has taught women across the world to be proud of the food they cook at home. Her first book, How To Eat: The Pleasures And Principles Of Good Food, published in 1998, offered recipes and hacks for weekday cooking, and became an instant best-seller. She followed this up with her first cooking show, Nigella Bites, in 1999 which became an even greater success. With her simple no-fuss cooking, Lawson brought back attention to everyday food and infused it with some joie de vivre. Lawson will be in Mumbai and Delhi to curate two special dinners for the 2019 edition of The World Series presented by American Express, in association with Evolve Luxury Marketing and Special Events. In keeping with Nigella’s cooking style, this will be a menu showcasing complex flavours and innovative dishes, all wrung out of a simple bunch of ingredients.

For Lawson, cooking was and continues to be a pleasurable pastime, and eating represents a celebration with family and friends. This idea has persisted through her three decade-long career in which she has written 12 cookbooks, hosted several cooking shows on TV and judged reality shows such as MasterChef Australia. Separating cooking from other domestic chores, Lawson created a new idiom for home cooks. Even as the world celebrates the rise of female chefs, she still stands out as a champion for female empowerment in the non-professional realm. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How did your background as a publisher and journalist fit in with your career in food writing and television?

I started off as a book reviewer for the Sunday Times but was also doing other things. I think, we all do many things at the same time, and it is a very male point of view to say categorically that “you read books" or “you do cooking" or “you have an interest in current events". In fact, I think that it is natural that they all merge. While it may be somewhat odd that I started writing about food, one of the impulses behind was the literary challenge it offered. When you write about food, you are writing about something that exists in the practical realm, and yet sensation and taste is always best described through metaphor. To write about food well, you are not actually just describing the food, you are also describing how it makes you feel, what it makes you think of, what associations one has with it. I started off simply because I was interested in food. I suppose it was a slight escape from the job that I was doing and, then, it somehow became the main thing I was doing.

From your first book, How To Eat, home cooking has remained your focus. What has changed in your approach to food over the years?

When I started out, nearly all the books that existed seemed to be about how to run a top restaurant at home with that sort of ridiculous plating up. I think my first book was simple and the food in that book was what I had been cooking all my life. It’s not false modesty and, although I have picked up many things over the years, I don’t really know techniques, my knife skills are non-existent and there are certain dishes that I just wouldn’t attempt.

The reality is that cooking at home is about welcoming people into your house. It is about flavour and you don’t need fancy techniques to get complex flavours. And, I felt that it was quite mad that people feel that they are not entitled to cook unless they have got the right qualifications. The rhythms of a home cook can be exhausting at a certain stage in your life, and when my children were little, I had to concentrate on dishes that were quicker and didn’t have so many ingredients. Now that they are grown up, I can spend an entire Saturday afternoon pottering about making a fruit pie, which I might not have had the time to do earlier.

I think one’s approach to food changes constantly, depending on where you are in your life. I have learnt about food and techniques through the mistakes I have made. Cooking for me has to be rewarding, and to turn it into something frightening is pointless because so much of life is frightening. Thinking of cooking as a series of challenges that you have to overcome would ruin it for me.

How did you enter the world of food?

I came from a food obsessed family, who loved talking about food. My mother was something of a snob who believed that people who cooked from recipes didn’t quite understand cooking. My grandmother, on the other hand, loved collecting recipes, and this sharing and swapping of recipes would be our way of communication. I did that when I was young and, yet, I never imagined that this would be my career or would be something I would do professionally. I didn’t know that there was a world of food outside my home. My mother and my two grandmothers cooked in different ways and that made me realize that the food you cook is an expression of your personality and there isn’t really one way of doing things. You have to find the right accommodation between you and the food.

Do you think the idea of a domestic goddess is at odds with a larger idea of female empowerment?

It was meant to be a joke. The title came from a piece I did for Vogue, called “How to feel like a domestic goddess", and it was meant to be funny and not about actually being one. And, although I sometimes find the title a bit embarrassing, I realize irony doesn’t translate onto the printed page, and I can see how it can be seen as something that says that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. I don’t believe it is and, at the same time, there is a huge satisfaction to be gained from cooking.

On a more serious note, I think a lot of women felt uncomfortable enjoying cooking because it made them lesser. That hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t think that your IQ was going to drop simply if you put a cake in the oven. I have a lot of girlfriends who didn’t cook because they felt that their mothers had gotten trapped in that life. Whether you are male or female, to be able to feed yourself is an important skill. I find it anti-feminist to disparage cooking just because it has traditionally been a female activity. I think there is a huge difference between cooking because it gives you pleasure to feed people, and cooking as an act of service or duty. I’d rather cook than do an awful lot around the house. Back home in my age group now, men cook as much, if not more than women, and in my children’s generation there is no distinction between men and women cooking.

You have been an icon for your body positive image, as well as a symbol of glamour and style. How do you straddle these different things?

When you do television, people think of you as someone they look at. When I do television I am not scripted and I just talk. So, for me, its about communication and I don’t see myself in that image. I think it’s interesting that just by being someone who is not a model, you are seen as a symbol of something. But there are plenty of women like me around the world (although they are not on American television for sure).

How have reality cooking shows changed food programming for television?

You could take that argument two ways. The negative is that it makes people feel that every time they cook, they are in a competition, where they have to constantly prove themselves. This means that inviting your friends over can be quite fraught, if you think that they are judging you. While it depends on the programme, there are positives as well. I do MasterChef Australia and I think it concentrates on the good things about food and cooking. It is quite fascinating to see what people cook and how they think in these competitions. TV does cut both ways. It can encourage people to cook, but it can also become a spectator sport. When I do TV, I try and show people how simple something is and demystify it. The difficulty about reality TV is that in order to make everything have drama, they have to go on about how complicated everything is and mythologize it.

Food wastage has become one of the biggest concerns of the food industry. How does this feed into how you cook?

I never waste. I’m lucky enough to buy good food, but I never waste anything. The difficulty is that I feel that I spend so much time not wasting, that I have more stock in my freezer than I can use. If I have eaten anything with a bone I’m going to make stock out of it. I keep peels of carrots and other vegetables in a bag to turn them into vegetable stock as well. Another big thing is repurposing leftovers. I believe cooks come into their own when they are fiddling with leftovers.

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