Nigella Lawson: «Italian cuisine is the best in the world»

Interview with the British celebrity, charmed by our chefs Cesare Battisti and Filippo La Mantia

Londoner Nigella Lawson, born in 1960, is one of t

Londoner Nigella Lawson, born in 1960, is one of the most famous people to promote gastronomy in Britain. Her most popular TV programmes include: "Nigella Bites", "Nigella Feasts", "Nigella Kitchen". Her first book "How to Eat: Pleasures and Principles of Good Food" (1998) sold 300 thousand copies. In the past, she spent a long time in Italy. Her latest visit a few days ago, promoting her book "Simply Nigella"

Nigella Lawson is back in Italy with a new book on the pleasure of food, with simple, relaxed yet always satisfying recipes. A serene and cheerful celebration of food that’s comforting and makes you «feel good, whatever the occasion». “Simply Nigella” – in the bookshops in Italy as of yesterday, 15th September – is a hymn to calmness, to the pleasure of cooking and the enthusiasm that characterise the famous British journalist and TV presenter.

Seven sections with unusual names (“Quick and calm”, “Bowlfood”, “Dine”, “Breathe”, “Sides”, “Sweet” “Beginnings”) include 125 recipes paired with craveable images and delicate colours, an unusual interpretation of comfort food, wrapped in the sweet and calm voice that has made her one of the most beloved and famous people in the culinary scene. 

We had the chance and luck to meet her. She’s a beautiful and fascinating woman, with profound eyes, a mellow voice and porcelain skin: she charmed us immediately. We spoke in English but she knows Italian well since she spent a long time in Italy, in Florence, where at 19 she discovered flavours that later became the foundations of her menus and her very successful cooking programmes.

A classic yet essential question: how did you become passionate about cooking?
I wasn’t born with this passion. In fact I ate little as a child! I think it all began during university, when I ended up cooking for my roommates. Yet it’s in Italy, in Florence, that my connection with food started. It was there that I discovered Italian delicacies, I was inspired and learnt the recipes that I later used in my 3 years at university. In Italy I learnt that the simplest the food, the better, and this is a very important lesson that I now try to teach others.

You’re considered a champion of accessible cuisine. What would you recommend to someone who’s approaching your philosophy for the first time?
I’m passionate about talking about food with others. I try to do so with my books and my TV programmes because I believe that I’m a communicator before being a cook. To those who approach cooking for the first time, my recommendation is first of all to do it for yourself. Get acquainted with the kitchen and avoid panicking if something goes wrong. Many people who are not used to cooking make the mistake of starting by inviting many people for dinner: it’s like trying to compete in the Formula 1 without having a driving licence yet… You first need to learn to drive on simpler roads!

"Simply Nigella", Nigella Lawson’s latest book, available as of 15th September in Italian too

"Simply Nigella", Nigella Lawson’s latest book, available as of 15th September in Italian too

You don’t like being considered a chef. Why so?
I never worked in a restaurant and never tried to be a chef. I’m a cook! Being a chef doesn’t necessarily mean stepping on a higher level, so I’m not saying this out of modesty. I consider myself as a normal home cook and I’m proud.

You’ve been a culinary critic and judge in various talent shows. What’s harder, cooking or judging?
I feel cooking is somehow an act of generosity and I find judging others when they cook is horrible. I don’t like being rude to others, it’s embarrassing. Judging makes me feel terribly uneasy. I feel much more like myself and relaxed when I’m cooking. I recently participated in Masterchef Australia as a judge and I think the programme was more generous than in the previous editions: the other judges were kind and explained the errors made by the participants, giving them the chance to improve.

This book is a collection of recipes that “make us feel good”. Which one of these recipes is your comfort food?
Cooking in general makes us feel good. I focus on making people feeling more relaxed when they’re cooking, this is my true message. I find that what makes a particular food more pleasing is the way in which we cook it. There are days when we crave some types of food, like fish or vegetables, and others when we fancy a good pasta or celebrate with a nice chocolate cake. It’s a question of balance, in a balanced diet celebrating food as much as possible. It’s important for a diet not to have too many restrictions, because cooking rules may end up making us feel in prison, when in fact food is joy, openness, sharing. I personally find comfort in every food, but I feel very pampered by soup, mashed potatoes or spaghetti carbonara…pasta, eggs and jowl bacon are a magic combination!».

Nigella Lawson praises Cesare Battisti’s Ossobuco e risotto at Ratanà. The British chef has 800 thousand followers on Instagram

Nigella Lawson praises Cesare Battisti’s Ossobuco e risotto at Ratanà. The British chef has 800 thousand followers on Instagram

Italian flavours often appear in your recipes. Is there an Italian dish you particularly like?
I love Spaghetti with clams, without tomato. And then Ossobuco alla milanese and Florentine steak: it’s a very simple dish, but it’s one of the most delicious. I also like Venetian style liver very much, and a simple sea bass or fried mixed seafood… They remind me of the holidays.

What do you think about Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana being the first Italian restaurant to win the title of best restaurant in the world?
We all know Italian food is the best in the world. I know Massimo Bottura and find his cuisine fascinating. I still haven’t visited his restaurant but I’ll certainly go.

Which of our Italian chefs do you know and like? Are there other Italian restaurants you’d like to try?
Since I don’t live in Italy I can only read of your great chefs without meeting them in person. I tried the food made by Cesare Battisti, the chef at Ratanà, and found it really incredible: there’s the best you can find in food, simple dishes, nothing too complicated, but extraordinarily good. I loved the way he wisely combines such authentic flavours. I’ll certainly visit him again. Also in Milan, Filippo La Mantia is one of my favourites. In Venice instead I liked restaurant Le Antiche Carampane very much and Il Latini in Florence. I’d like to move back to Italy for a few years, because after all the places we love the best are those that have a sentimental value for us.



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