THE SUSPENSE IS OVER!

The Queen of Gastroporn’s new book “Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home” will be published on 2 September 2010.

Exclusive recipes from Nigella Lawson’s new book

There’s something intensely satisfying about cooking and eating, says the Queen of Gastroporn – whether it’s feeding family or snatching a greedy treat – and the kitchen, her ‘messy, ramshackle sanctuary’, is no place for guilt or self-denial. Here, introducing her new cookbook, she explains what the kitchen means to her, and why food is not just for body but for soul, too:

In everything I do, I try to beat the drum for the non-expert: I am not interested in some romantic idyll, but real life; call it making a virtue of necessity, but I declare myself, hand on cynical heart, the anti-perfectionist. But it appears that it’s hard to enthuse about the kitchen without either seeming to be whimsically nostalgic or bustlingly virtuous. I am neither. But still, the kitchen is my favoured space, my messy haven and ramshackle sanctuary – the place I feel most myself and yet most part of the world.

Maybe it is ungracious to admit this publicly, but I often feel that those of us who like cooking get an unfairly good press: we are hailed as loving, warm and nurturing. And it’s true that I am – to a fault – a feeder; there is scarcely a person who can leave my kitchen without something wrapped in foil to eat later, and just thinking about what I might cook for the next meal gives me a surge of absolute if greedy delight.

But sometimes I wonder if the interest I pay to what I might be giving someone to eat is more selfish than anything else. Of course, I want to give pleasure, but life in the kitchen is, for me, as much about personal gratification.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not such a bad thing. Of course, when you set it against the model of the ideal cook, that all-giving provider of good things, it doesn’t sound so great. But as I get older, I appreciate more and more that enjoying what makes you happy in the everyday is crucially important, and that self-denial (never my forte, let’s be frank) is not the path to virtue but to unhappiness.

So yes, for me the kitchen is not merely a room, but a pleasure palace, an interior garden of sensual delights – and all the better for it. While I could take the line that those who turn away from all that – whether it be the gorgeous, fatty richness of some long-braised belly of pork, or the melting intensity of a chocolate lime cake, dolloped shamelessly with margarita cream – must surely be blessed in their lives if they can so casually afford to deprive themselves of extra occasions of pleasure, I don’t really believe that; my admiration is sarcastic.

The joys of food are so great that I really do believe that those who cannot allow themselves to wallow in them have lesser lives. Of course, they have lesser dress sizes, too, and I can see that the trade-off works for many. It just doesn’t for me – or not that way around.

I know I eat a lot, but my refusal to bow down to the daily diet and all-round self-denial doesn’t mean I believe in indiscriminate gluttony. For me, it’s about savouring food without guilt or shame and not thinking that less flesh (either on your plate or your skeleton) is necessarily better.

Besides, I do think that enjoying food is a way of celebrating being alive. People often say that no one lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office and what I’d add is that I am sure that no one lies on their deathbed saying I’m so glad I turned down the bread, the cheese, the pudding, so thrilled I spent all those years on a diet.

We are all shaped by different things in our lives, but the memory of my perpetually dieting, self-denying mother saying – once she knew she had only a few weeks to live – that this was the first time she had eaten what she wanted and could enjoy it, is still shocking to me. She was such a fantastic cook and actually understood food and the joys it could bring, but the lesson I have learnt from her self-inflicted deprivation is as much a part of her legacy to me as is My Mother’s Praised Chicken, which is the fundamental, actually essential, dish to emanate from my kitchen, as it did from hers.

The joys that emanate from the kitchen are not just about consumption, however delectable, but creation, too. Yes, giving oneself the task of putting together some elaborate, I-must-impress dinner party would be absolute hell, but real cooking contains an element of play that I can’t help but delight in. Mixing up a cake or a batch of muffins is as near as I feel I can get now to the thrill of making mud pies. And I love the feel of food in my hands, almost as much as I like the taste of it in my mouth.

For as much as I find food interesting to think about – and as pretty much a food obsessive, I think about it a lot – what I gain most pleasure from is the fact that cooking is about touch and feel, occupying – tangibly – the realm of the senses.

And I think that is partly why, despite being busy, despite being short of time and despite being able to find a great range of food out there that is already made, we still cook. We need to feel involved in the production, not just the consumption of food; we need to feel that satisfaction that comes from making something to eat, and then enjoying what it tastes like.

But one last request: this isn’t about turning ingredients or cooking into some sort of fetish. I don’t feel guilty that I make my Slut’s Spaghetti more or less by opening a few jars; indeed I revel in it. I believe that the only unhealthy food is not real food, and I feel I eat very healthily, just a lot. So yes, I allow butter, cream and other unfashionable delights into my recipes.

I don’t eat cake every day, but when I do make one I don’t feel bad about eating a slice; having said that, even food that I can’t quite make a case for, such as crisps, I am grateful for. In the kitchen I may be more of an Italophile than a Francophile, but still I cleave to the French saying, ‘Everything in moderation – even moderation’. I may have immoderate appetites, but that gives me immoderate pleasure. And for that I am greedily grateful.

I must have sex with Nigella Lawson before I die. She eats, she writes, she cooks, she drinks, she fucks. The perfect woman.

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