LONDON — The Domestic Goddess is back, and ready to convert American cookbook readers and cable television masses alike to the joys of squid salad, soba noodles and summer minestrone.
Nigella Lawson just completed a 14-day tour of the U.S. to plug "Forever Summer," a cookbook that was a bestseller in the U.K., and the companion television series that had the opposite effect, leaving British viewers cold.
Her fourth book, published in Britain last year, features fast, year-round summer recipes from the Mediterranean region, Asia and, yes, even England. Indeed, those larders in Nigellaland (the author’s own term) are filled with more than just rice noodles, mozzarella and sardines — they also boast cold roast beef, fried chicken and lemon cupcakes.
"It’s the sort of food you make when you can’t travel to all those vacation spots," said Lawson during a recent interview at the Eaton Square home she shares with her boyfriend, Charles Saatchi, the advertising mogul and contemporary art collector. "And it’s not laborious. It’s the food I’ve always cooked, like lemony roast chicken, which we have for lunch here practically every day."
Indeed, Lawson, who’s dressed in a baby blue short-sleeved cashmere top and ankle-grazing black skirt, said the recipes are so quick to make that, when she was shooting the TV series, "Forever Summer with Nigella," she had to find ways to fill the 24-minute segments. "Everything was over in, like, two minutes. So you’ll see there’s a lot of me walking back and forth," she says with a laugh.
Lawson said she feels her television series, which will appear on the Style network and E! Entertainment Television starting in May, has been much better scheduled in the U.S. than in the U.K., and will "really hit its mark."
She seems to be a victim of growing viewer fatigue with cookery programs in the U.K.; "Forever Summer" attracted 900,000 viewers in Britain, compared with the 2.1 million who tuned in to her Christmas program in 2001. The uneven success of "Forever Summer" — and the decision by Britain’s Channel Four not to go ahead with two development projects — Nigella Diets and Nigellissima — has not dampened Lawson’s plans, culinary and otherwise, in either her homeland or the U.S., though.Lawson’s most immediate plan is to launch Nigella Lawson’s Living Kitchen, a collection of efficient, ergonomically designed and sometimes kooky kitchenware. While the collection is currently available at Conran’s in New York, it will be available in other stores in the U.S. in July.
Fear not, Martha Stewart! Lawson also has nonfood projects on her back burner.
"I don’t think of myself as a food person, and I like that. I’m interested in life, in nonfood writing, and I’m always teasing my editors at The New York Times that I’m ready to take over the op-ed pages at the paper," said Lawson, an Oxford graduate who began her career as a journalist writing book reviews and restaurant columns for The Spectator and The Sunday Times of London. Her brother, Dominic, is editor of The Sunday Telegraph, while her father, Nigel, is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Her celebrity has reached an entirely different level in Britain now that she is Saatchi’s girlfriend, an affair that began after her husband, John Diamond, died of throat cancer. The "Wizard of Oz" of the advertising world Saatchi — who is notoriously publicity shy — and Lawson are fodder for Britain’s infamous tabloid press, especially since he and Diamond were good friends and since Saatchi’s ex-wife, Kay, has publicly blamed Lawson for ruining their marriage.
"Since I’ve been with Charles, I feel more of a need to mark off my private space," Lawson says. "I’m lucky to be so rooted in my family and friends and I don’t derive my sense of self from what the press has to say about me. I don’t read my clippings to find out what kind of person I am."
Lawson, who now writes a semimonthly column for The New York Times called At My Table, said speaking to American audiences and having a whole new readership has been invigorating — if not a little scary.
"It feels like a big deal for me, but I don’t want to think about it too much, or else I’ll feel intimidated," she admits. "I’m sure that on paper, the initial American reaction was ‘A Brit telling us about cooking?’ But I try not to dwell on how I’m perceived — that would just make me self-conscious."Lawson adds that she won’t write for a particular audience — even when she knows that audience may favor fat-, sugar- and cholesterol-free goodies. "However, if I had a recipe that called for a quarter of a cup of heavy cream, I might tell them not to get hysterical — especially if it’s a recipe for six people. I might tease my readers."
Sam Sifton, editor of the Times’ Dining section, says Lawson’s column has been a boon to the paper’s pages. "Readers have responded very positively to her both as a writer and as a cook. She’s a true home cook suffering under the same time deficit that plagues us all," he says, adding that he appreciates her journalistic background.
"If one of Gordon Ramsay’s [the renowned British chef] restaurants exploded in fire, I’d have no qualms sending her off to cover the news for us. She’d probably like to do more of that, actually," says Sifton.
Lawson is currently in talks with Channel Four for other television projects that are not necessarily food-related. "We have projects in the works for later this year," said a Channel Four spokeswoman, "and if they are food-related at all, they will be very different from what she’s done in the past."
Lawson says she’s in discussions for "commentary-like" shows. "I’m very interested in what makes people tick. I’d like to do a talk-based program, but nothing like Oprah Winfrey."
And she’s not channeling Martha. "I couldn’t be Martha Stewart. I couldn’t run a big thing because I’m not happy to delegate — and, besides, I’m an anti-perfection person."
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