'Guilt should play no part in pleasure': British cook Nigella Lawson tears down guilty pleasures in new book

Bestselling author and TV presenter Nigella Lawson has released a new book of recipes and essays, called Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories.

Nigella Lawson’s new book of recipes and essays is about pleasure and ritual

Nigella Lawson is a British cook and TV presenter. (Submitted by HarperCollins)

In the first two weeks of the pandemic lockdown, British cook and TV presenter Nigella Lawson turned to her pantry.

"All I could do was eat carbs," said Lawson in an interview with Tom Power on Q. "I mean, it was either a baked potato, bread, pasta, rice or chocolate. Probably all of them."

At the time, Lawson was in the middle of writing her new book Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories, which is a mix of recipes and personal essays on food. 

While writing in quarantine, Lawson found herself making dinners that reminded her of her family.

"There are a couple of recipes in the book, one called 'Soupy Rice with Celeriac and Chestnuts,' and one which is 'Wide Noodles with Lamb in Aromatic Broth' — they're both recipes that I had cooked for my children and that they loved," said Lawson.

"Being apart from them, it was rather lovely to have the memory of eating together as I ate that food."

    The ritual of eating can bring comfort to people, but for Lawson, the act of cooking goes even further.

    "Cooking makes the world feel safe," she said. "When you have no control over these frightening things going on in the world, that small bit of control on your environment makes a lot of difference."

    'Guilt should play no part in pleasure'

    One of the chapters in Lawson's book is called "Death to the Guilty Pleasure." It's dedicated to tearing down the notion that people should feel guilty about eating food they enjoy. Lawson argues that "guilt should play no part in pleasure."

    She believes there are generally two reasons people feel guilty about food.

    "For one, it's because women have been told they should be on a diet forever. Therefore, any food that doesn't look like it's diet food makes them feel guilty," said Lawson.

    "I think the other reason is because people think the food is low status. But you can't pretend to like food you don't like… sometimes a slice of plastic bread with one of those triangles of processed cheese can be just what you need."

    Food is often more than taste; it can be part of a memory or feeling that resonates for years. 

    "Sometimes we're searching for that, rather than the taste," said Lawson.

    'There are a few greater pleasures than sharing your enthusiasms'

    Lawson began her career in print journalism in the 1980s, working as a book critic, restaurant critic, columnist and editor. She published her first book, How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, in 1998 and began hosting her own show, Nigella Bites, the following year.

    Lawson originally had no interest in being on television, but agreed to do it as long as the show was unscripted. She's been in the spotlight ever since.

    "There are a few greater pleasures than sharing your enthusiasms," said Lawson.

    "I am that annoying person in a restaurant who would put my fork in your mouth while you were talking so that you could taste something from my plate… perhaps sometimes it's slightly importunate, but nevertheless, it is such a pleasure."

    Though she's been cooking on television for more than 20 years, Lawson doesn't consider herself an expert. She champions simple recipes on her show and is honest about the technical skills she lacks.

    "Television helps show how easy something is... because I don't cook in a complicated manner. Anyone who sees me knows that I have no knife skills and you don't need knife skills to cook dinner," said Lawson.

    "I get nervous if people talk about me as if I'm an expert. I'm not, but I've cooked for a long time at home. I'm intrigued by flavour and the relationship between ingredients and I am impatient to tell people about it."

    Lawson's latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat, is out now.

    Written by Jane van Koeverden. Produced by Diane Eros.

    Hear full episodes of Q on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.


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