NEW YORK — “This is my real weakness: cashmere,” Nigella Lawson says as she haphazardly pulls clothes out of her suitcase in a green room at the Food Network studios. She’s showing off the Brora sweaters she has custom made, eight per color. “I’ve got so many, I look like I have my own shop,” she jokes.
This is Lawson’s life now, the one where she is married to English art patron Charles Saatchi, spends “far too much money” on net-a-porter.com and custom orders loads of cashmere. She’s also back on television, with a new 13-part Food Network show called “Nigella Feasts,” which premiered Sunday and is accompanied by a book of the same name from Hyperion.
But, as her fans know, it hasn’t always been easy for the Oxford-educated former journalist. Her first husband, British broadcaster John Diamond, died in 2001 after a long and very public bout with throat cancer, leaving her widowed with two young children. And her career has not always maintained a meteoric rise — she’s been somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Jamie Oliver in her home country, her short-lived eponymous ITV talk show faltered and her books, such as “How to be a Domestic Goddess,” were not the smash hits on this continent that many predicted.
But Lawson doesn’t seem to mind she’s not quite Martha Stewart. “It isn’t something I would want to do,” she says. “I have no overwhelming desire to be on TV. I really enjoyed making this series, and I’ve got an idea for another one. But I like a life that mixes lots of things, and certainly I’d never want to get too far away from my books because I love that.”
There was a time when she didn’t enjoy being on television at all. “It was quite traumatic to carry on filming a show when my first husband died. Somehow, all that time was identified in my head with doing TV — wrongly,” she admits. “Then when I remarried and moved houses and my children started school, I really felt that I just needed some time away and a proper life, which I got.
“Of course, the children were begging me to do another show and not hang around the house all the time,” she says.
This story first appeared in the October 3, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
This series, like its predecessors, is true to Lawson herself, who is nothing if not long on charm. “It’s relaxed but voluptuous food, so it’s all about pleasure and reward,” she explains, using the “v” word that adorers and critics alike have long applied to her. (British TV critics have at times grown steamy over her, and she’s credited with the whole “gastro-porn” phenomenon.)
For Lawson, clearly, eating is much more than simply consuming calories. “I’m not just interested in saying, ‘Now this is the formula for the recipe,’ where it’s from, what it means to me, what the history is,” she says.
Right now, however, she’s lucky to grab a banana on the run, though she does favor the food of Cesare Casella (at Maremma) and Mario Batali or a simple steak and fries on the roof of Soho House when in New York. At home in London, she’s the one who cooks for her family, which, besides daughter Mimi and son Bruno, now includes stepdaughter Phoebe. “Cooking every day is much more ‘I can’t do pasta again, but I will,'” she says, though she does have some rules. “They don’t have to eat everything, but they do have to try it.” Fish is something the children can’t stomach. “They were absolutely fine until they saw ‘Finding Nemo’ and that was the end of the fish-eating. My son says, ‘I won’t eat anything that comes from the sea except salt,'” she says.