(Image: me meeting Nigella Lawson. She's signing my book. Photograph by Melissa Hobbs Photography.)
The Christmas before I moved out of home, my parents gave me Nigella Bites. That and Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef were the cookbooks that taught me the basics of cooking. My favourite thing to cook from Nigella Bites is her stovetop rice pudding - it's my comfort dessert. I love it with cardamom or lemon zest, and sometimes rosewater. I've been a fan of her cooking shows for years, too. I especially like the way she sneaks leftovers from the fridge at midnight.
So when I heard she was coming to Australia and speaking at a Business Chicks event, I snapped up tickets on the day they were released. My mum, Julia, my manager and her friend came along too. Mum, Julia and I had a girly night in a hotel before breakfast with Nigella - so much fun. We met Julia's beautiful family - her four girls and husband - they are delightful.
(Image: Mum, Julia and I in our pyjamas, the night before Nigella.)
Last Tuesday morning, Nigella was interviewed by journalist Anjali Rao, in front of 1800 people at Crown Casino. She promoted her new book - Simply Nigella - describing it as "a mixture of serenity and cosiness".
(Image: Simply Nigella book in front of a sign saying "the world is your goddamn oyster".)
She was so calm, articulate and passionate about home cooking. It was far too brief. These talks are never long enough. I could listen to Business Chicks' speakers for hours.
Nigella started by saying she loves Australian food, saying it has a freshness and vibrancy, influenced by Greek, Italian and Asian cultures. She said when she visits Australia, she learns about ingredients she didn't know about before - like white soy sauce and coconut vinegar (thanks for the tips!)
She joked about the Melbourne weather - "the great thing about Melbourne is if it's too hot, I wait a bit longer and it gets cold."
I really loved hearing her thoughts on the connection between language and food. She was once a journalist. "Language got me into food", she said. She didn't want to manage staff at the Sunday Times so she took on a writing contract.
My favourite quote from her whole talk was "when I read a book, I think 'I really love the taste of these sentences'". So gorgeous. (Here she talks about her life in food.) And as I flicked through her new book, I relished the language she uses.
She clarified her sultriness when cooking on camera: "I try to use language to convey the feelings when I cook. I'm focused on the sounds. I'm like a sports commentator, doing commentary on what I'm cooking", she said.
Nigella talked about her role to "encourage", not "harangue" readers about food. She hates the clean eating movement - her thoughts on this have been documented in recent interviews. She believes people can't eat well when they're made to feel bad about their food. "You never make any good decisions from a bad place. That's not helpful." Nigella touched on her mother's troubled relationship work food, saying she didn't want to take that path. "I don't deny myself food, but I don't binge on it either. I love baking. It doesn't mean I eat cake every day", she said.
She spoke about the merits of home cooking, and how she wants to elevate the importance of home cooking. "How we cook at home is the true story of cooking. I felt there was something wrong that cooking had been dominated by the qualified chef. But a chef hasn't got the freedom to play with recipes once they're on the menu. It's conveyor belt cooking. I'd feel very hemmed in having to cook the same thing over and over again." She described chefs as "a prisoner of their own brilliance", because no one wants to eat a modified dish off the menu they love. "I don't think you can pretend your home is a restaurant."
I think the whole Palladium was impressed when she said she doesn't believe Nigella is a brand. "I don't wish to be a commodity." She does all her social media herself. She is hands on with her work - looking down the barrel of the lens in all photo shoots. "I won't let anything go out unless I've written it", she said. She added she wouldn't recommend not being a good delegator to everyone, though.
Nigella prefers slow food to fast cooking. "Slow food doesn't mean stodgy, nostalgic or bland", she said. "A bowl of ramen is uplifting." She described fast cooking as "a bit frenetic." "I don't find chopping for a stirfry calming, I'd rather put a chicken in the oven", she told us.
Continuing on the anti-food-shaming theme, she doesn't want to make anyone feel bad for not being able to cook. "I don't think a person who can cook is morally superior."
She ended with talking about her favourite recipe from her new book - chicken shawarma. She enjoys it as part of an indoor picnic.
After the interview, Nigella signed her book. It was a long wait for a very brief meeting. And no photos with her either. But I managed to snap a couple after our meet.
(Images: Nigella Lawson smiling and signing books.)
Nigella was very friendly - she smiled and thanked me when I told her she taught me how to cook when I left home. And she's radiant. So beautiful. It was nice to say hello to someone who really has influenced me.
What an exciting breakfast! I really love hearing successful women share their stories.
Have you had breakfast with a celebrity cook before? What did they cook?!