THERE are few people who can make mundane tasks such as brining a turkey or chopping vegetables sexy, but then there are few people like Nigella Lawson.
She of the unabashed greed and hourglass figure clad in snug $400 Brora cashmere sweaters has made cooking, eating and raiding the fridge sexy.
But fame can be cruel. The very qualities that have made her so watchable are also parodied mercilessly in YouTube videos and comedy shows. Bad boy British chef Gordon Ramsay even named a plump-breasted turkey after her.
|Nigella Lawson's five must-have ingredients
'I can't live without lemons.'
2 Good salt
'I'm in favour of good salt. I use a British salt called Maldon. It's got a nice soft flake and a soft flavour.'
3 Garlic-infused oil
'My lazy ingredient is garlic-infused oil, so that when I haven't got much time, I can start off using that. It's very handy to have.'
'Bacon for me is a great must. I have it in the fridge and I also have it in my deep freeze. Bacon or salt pork of some sort can transform, if you've got some vegetables that need cooking and they're past their best.'
5 Fresh herbs
'I think a fresh herb is good, and the ones I like to keep in my fridge are parsley, coriander and dill, and in summer, mint.'
Still, what's the point of being a goddess if you cannot rise above it all?
You can almost sense the shrug over the phone from London, where she lives, when asked about the pitfalls of fame.
She tells Life!: 'Oh I don't mind all that. I lead a very normal life. I don't lead a life in premieres and red-carpet nonsense.
'I get up in the morning and I take my children to school. So I think it only affects you as much as you want it to.'
It is hard to believe that Lawson, 48, a mother of two and married to ad man and art collector Charles Saatchi, leads a normal life.
She has six cookbooks which have sold three million copies worldwide, her cooking shows are watched by millions and she has her own line of cookware.
It is easier to imagine the Oxford graduate, daughter of former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, lounging in a satin robe all day long eating chocolate, living a life found only in the pages of glossy magazines she sometimes appears in.
But the person on the line sounds decidedly down to earth. Fortified by a breakfast of fried pancetta and a fried egg, she gives thoughtful answers to questions about cooking and food during the 20-minute-long conversation.
She is doing interviews to plug her new 13-episode cooking series, Nigella Express, which premieres Friday night on the Discovery Travel & Living channel.
The show sprang from her best-selling book of the same name, published last year.
It was not one she had planned to write, she says, adding that it had come about by accident while she was planning another book.
She says: 'I was sitting in my kitchen and looking at my notebooks because I write down what I cook. And because I've been very busy recently, all of my recipes were very, very quick and I thought this is the book I should be doing.'
Like her other recipes, the ones in Nigella Express are not intimidating. They are the kind of quick, easy-to-cook recipes that harried people are always saying they want.
Some will baulk at recipes calling for lime juice out of a plastic bottle and one for chocolate mousse made with, of all things, mini marshmallows.
But the recipes do not rely only on ingredients that come from bottles, cans and jars, and there seems a conscious effort to balance out convenience foods with fresh ingredients.
She says: 'When people ask 'What can I cook that I don't have to go shopping for?', I say that the difficulty is if you don't go shopping for anything, you're living off food that isn't fresh.
|'If you think of an espresso coffee, express denotes two things - speed but also concentration and 'an essence of'. So it's like this is my cooking philosophy in condensed and extra strong form' - Lawson on the title of her latest cookbook and cooking show, Nigella Express
|'We are former colonisers. What has happened now is that we have become, if you like, the colonised in a cultural and cooking sense' - Lawson on how British chefs are being accepted around the world
'I think that frozen vegetables probably have a higher nutritional content than many vegetables that are standing around a shop for a long time. And I think canned beans can be great.
'But I think one should try and always balance that, even if it means you've only got time to buy a head of lettuce or some greens. It is good to add that.'
Although not a trained chef, she nonetheless manages to come up with hundreds of recipes for her books.
She says: 'I think it's partly greed, because I'm always thinking about what to eat next. And I think partly I've got a very sharp flavour memory. So for some reason, I can hold the flavours of food in my head.
'So when I'm thinking what to cook, I can think of those. But sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong.'
One of these experiments resulted in a recipe for Roquamole in Nigella Express, essentially the Mexican avocado dip guacamole amped up with Roquefort, the French blue cheese.
'That is just pure greed and disgustingness, isn't it?' she says with a laugh.
'Well, at first, I thought of it the wrong way round, because the word Roquamole came into my head. I thought it was a fantastic word and I must use it.
'The thing about avocado, which I love, is that it has got a certain sort of blandness. Therefore it did occur to me that the sharpness of blue cheese would work well with it and I'm very glad to report it does.'
With the detour to write Nigella Express completed, she is now working on a Christmas cookbook to be published this year, a 'really beautiful one, heavily illustrated'.
But the express theme is not far from her mind still. She is thinking of developing a range of ingredients and mixes 'to make everyone's life easier'.
She says: 'Whether it will come to anything, I don't know, because I want to develop it first, to make sure it's good enough. And if it is, then we'll go to market.
'And if it isn't, it's on to the next thing.'
That's every goddess' prerogative.
Cook in the soup
THE cookbook author and television cook has had her share of controversies. Here are two recent ones:
|GREED BECOMES HER: Lawson says it is partly greed that drives her to come up with recipes. Well, that's just good news for her fans.
AFTER Nigella Express was screened in Britain, there were rumblings that the kitchen featured in the show is actually a set housed in an industrial building and not her home.
What she says: 'Where I cook in Nigella Express, contrary to what you may have read, is not an industrial building. It's like a little house and the children love doing sleepovers there.
'But it's not my home. It is partly an insurance against lack of earning when I get older. And I also needed a bigger workspace than I can get at home.
'I live in Chelsea and it's in Battersea. So I have a nice walk across the bridge over the river and it's quite useful because it's near my son's school and he can come over straight from school.'
LAWSON, who has a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son from her first marriage to the late journalist John Diamond, made waves when the media reported that she would leave nothing to her children in her will. Her second husband is multi-millionaire and art patron Charles Saatchi.
The controversy arose from a story in My Weekly magazine, in which she was quoted as saying: 'I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money.'
What she says: 'What I said was taken out of context. By the way, I didn't even give an interview to that magazine, so I don't know how that happened.
'But what I've always said generally is, 'They have to work, they have to work for a living.' It's the most important thing in the world. You don't do your children any favours by letting them have money without having to work for it.
'So that's what I've said, but I've never discussed my will with anyone, not even them.'
- Nigella Express premieres on Discovery Travel & Living (StarHub Channel 16) on Friday at 8.30pm.
- Nigella Express: Good Food Fast costs $62.06 and is available at Books Kinokuniya.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Mar 5, 2008.