Byline: Aaron Balkan
NEW YORK — “The great culinary renaissance we have heard so much about has done many things,” says Nigella Lawson. “It’s given us extra virgin olive oil, better restaurants and gastroporn — but it hasn’t taught us how to cook.”
Lawson is not a chef, a food critic or even a foodie. But in her new cookbook, “How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food,” she dishes out tantalizing, and often literary, recipes — from Proust’s madeleines and Blakean fish pie (saffron-tinged, she says, like Blake’s sunbursts) to a simple roast chicken.
“These days, everyone is knowledgeable about food,” the Talk and London Observer columnist says, “but the more they become aware and the more they eat out, the less confident they are about their own cooking. They feel they can’t measure up.
“I think the language of life has to be absolutely one with the language of the kitchen. When you talk about food, everyone’s got a story to tell, and they talk about themselves in a way.”
Lawson points out that it’s the skills she has honed as a mother — not as a journalist — that form the backbone of “How to Eat.” The book may have recipes for the likes of quince syllabub (an English dessert drink), but it also offers practical advice on cooking in advance and, of course, on leftovers — something she says the modern cook has all but forgotten.
“The difference between a chef and a cook is the leftovers,” she says. “The chef is planning his menu around new ingredients, but a cook gets started with what’s already in the fridge.”
Written much like a novel, “How to Eat” weaves recipes for birthday cake and a “calming winter lunch” into a narrative that is meant to resemble the life of any home cook. Among those who love the author’s cooking is another storyteller, her friend Salman Rushdie.
“He’s great to cook for because he’s as greedy as I am. He loves to eat.
“In the early days of the fatwa,” she whispers, “I was making roast lamb for him, and when I opened the oven to take it out, my hair, my face, everything caught on fire. The special police, who were next door, stormed in from the other room, thinking there had been some kind of attack. Of course, it was just my cooking.”