British Columbia·Recipe

Q & A: Celebrity chef and food lover Nigella Lawson 'doesn't believe in perfection'

A lot has changed in the food world in the two decades since chef and author Nigella Lawson first started coming into the public eye as a domestic goddess with her cookbooks and shows.

‘Life is complicated: cooking doesn't have to be,’ she writes in latest book

Chef and author Nigella Lawson came in to the studio to talk about her sources of inspiration and the importance of good food. ( Liam Britten/CBC)

A lot has changed in the food world in the two decades since chef and author Nigella Lawson first came into the public eye as a domestic goddess with her cookbooks and shows.

One thing that hasn't changed is Lawson's message about food, inscribed on the back of her latest book At My Table: "Life is complicated: cooking doesn't have to be."

She's in Vancouver for a cooking event this week and sat down with Michelle Eliot, guest host of CBC's On The Coast, to talk about her sources of inspiration, love of cooking and latest book.

Is it true that the idea of writing a cookbook came to you after you observed a dinner party host in tears because of an unset crème caramel?

It's one of the reasons why I did the book.

I was at someone's place for dinner and it got more and more tense. We were sitting around the table and heard her sobbing uncontrollably and I thought this is just mad.

It wasn't just about the crème caramel, it was too many courses — something very complicated, she'd made some sort of soup that required four days work and 92,000 ingredients.

I am a living reminder that you don't have to be perfect.

Anyone who's ever seen me chop anything on television, spill things and generally be a bit hopeless, knows I don't believe in perfection. 

And you take pride in that?

I'm making a virtue out of necessity.

It doesn't impede the flavour of the food. Obviously, it rules out certain sorts of cooking but I don't think home cooking is ever particularly technique-driven.

What we, as home cooks, are about, is flavour.

So tell me about your new book At My Table?

A lot of my books, the focus has been the stove side.

When I think about my life, I just see it as a tableau of me at various tables throughout my life and surrounded by people — either my table that people are around, my grandmothers' tables, friends of mine and everything.

This way of eating with people is so much the story of how we are as humans.

The recipe for Indian spiced chicken and potato comes from Nigella Lawson's newest cookbook. (Penguin Random House)

Recipe: Indian spiced chicken and potato traybake

Serves 6

  • Potatoes – 3¼ pounds, peeled and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
  • Cumin seeds – 2 teaspoons
  • Fennel seeds – 2 teaspoons
  • Yellow mustard seeds – 2 teaspoons
  • Nigella seeds – 2 teaspoons
  • Ground turmeric – ½ teaspoon
  • Limes – 2, finely grated zest and juice
  • Garlic – 4 cloves, peeled and minced
  • Sea salt flakes or kosher salt – 2 teaspoons, plus more for sprinkling
  • Cold water – ¼ cup
  • Chicken thighs – 12, skin-on and bone-in
  • Regular olive oil – 2 tablespoons

To serve:

  • Cilantro
  • Quick-pickled onions.

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Put the cut potatoes into a large, shallow roasting pan and sprinkle with the spices, followed by the lime zest and juice, garlic, two teaspoons of salt, and the water.

2. Tumble the chicken into the pan, and toss everything well together, then turn the chicken skin-side up on top of the potatoes. Drizzle the skin with the oil and sprinkle over a little salt, then cook in the oven for one hour, or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken cooked through, its skin golden and crisp. Serve scattered with chopped cilantro and, if wished, the quick-pickled onions.

This interview aired on On The Coast on April 26 and has been edited for clarity and structure. To hear the complete interview, click on the audio below.

With files from On The Coast and North By Northwest.