Nigella Lawson on India, influence and Instagram

Nigella Lawson got off a plane just hours earlier and is now sitting cross-legged on the sofa at the Taj Mahal Palace’s Neptune Suite. Dressed in what seems to be her uniform of choice in public — black shirt and trousers with white shoes — you wouldn’t know she’s just arrived in Mumbai. She’s already familiar with the hotel staff, calling her butler by name, and when she notices someone with a hot water bag, she rummages through her suitcase for a pain relief patch.

This ability to connect with anyone, anytime, will win over the diners who’ll be sitting down to a meal curated by Britain’s ‘culinary royalty’ this weekend. She’s in India thanks to Evolve Luxury Marketing and American Express, who are co-presenting The World Series dinners in Mumbai and Delhi. But, if you think her dishes will involve ego-propping techniques and unheard of ingredients, you don’t know the ‘domestic goddess’. She’s only ever cooked for pleasure. “I don’t think any of my recipes [dishes like chicken with bitter orange and fennel, and a rose and pepper pavlova] are going to test the chefs. I haven’t said, ‘Go fancy’ because that wouldn’t be right,” she tells me, her signature twinkle ever-present, before joking that they will better her skills. “For the canapés, I’m sure they’ll cut them out much better than I would. If they do a square, it will be a square. I always feel like I take liberties with geometry. But you won’t be seeing a foam on anything. I can assure you.”

Nigella Lawson on India, influence and Instagram

Sticking to food

Lawson, who is known the world over for her cookbooks (12 and counting) and television shows (over 10, besides outings on MasterChef Australia, The Taste and even Modern Family), has had to adapt as the world has changed — but on her own terms. While she understands the need to be present on various social platforms, she keeps the personal away from the professional. Lawson, 59, has become even more private after the very public, and unpleasant, divorce from her second husband, businessman Charles Saatchi, a few years ago. Her Instagram is all about food; no photos of family holidays make their way on there. “I’m entirely instinctive. And I find Instagram more like work than Twitter,” she admits. “I think it is because I’m basically more of a words person than a pictures person. But I do enjoy it once I do it.”

Since bringing out her first book, How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food (1998), a 500-page tome with no photographs and over 350 recipes, Lawson’s cooking has grown into the sine qua non of culinary currency. Given how her path to stardom has been in tandem with the world’s growing interest in food (and its photography), she admits, “I’ve always taken pictures of my food, a long time before social media. In fact, I did it in the time when you used to have to take your film to the pharmacy, where they’d develop it and I’d have one or two of my children and the rest of tomatoes or something.” Earlier this year, this interest led her to launch her own free app, Foodim (on iOS at the moment). Developed “a bit with my cameraman”, she says it came out of the vexing fact that there was no “dedicated food photography app, and so many of the filters... on general photography apps do food no favours”.

Nigella Lawson on India, influence and Instagram

Walking in Mumbai
  • Lawson is no stranger to India. This time, she’s clear that if she has time, she’d like to walk around and discover the area anew. “Coming here has taught me that you just have to get really good spices, and then toast and grind them yourself for flavour,” she tells me, in her clearly enunciated accent. She also credits trips to the country with expanding her definition of Indian food, and understanding that it is made up of many regional cuisines. “I find it really interesting, learning about all the different regions, and how [the term] ‘Indian food’ doesn’t really describe anything. It is so varied.”

Meetings? No, thank you

While many chefs, including fellow Britisher Jamie Oliver (who echoes Lawson’s sentiment, encouraging people to cook), has founded culinary empires, she has restrained herself. Meetings, she laughs, are partly to blame. “I expand every now and then, and then I contract again. I did some kitchenware for a while, and I did enjoy it; I wouldn’t mind doing it again. But one of the nice things about what I do is that I don’t have a lot of meetings. Once you start going into the world of anything else, you know, there are meetings. And then you think, why am I having a life with meetings all the time. No thanks. In the end, I like writing books, and I like padding about and doing things.”

But she is not averse to experimenting. “In life, you should have as many different experiences as possible. One thing I would miss is if I didn’t do another book, although like most people who write books, I spend a long time putting it off,” she concludes.

The ticketed dinner, at ₹25,000, is on today at The Chambers, The Taj Mahal Palace, and tomorrow at The Roseate, New Delhi, at 8 pm.

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Printable version | Apr 27, 2021 7:25:01 PM |

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