Britain's domestic goddess back on MasterChef
SHE'S known as Britain's domestic goddess, but Nigella Lawson doesn't play dinner host as often as you'd think.
The celebrity cook, TV host and best-selling author prefers small, informal gatherings.
"I don't entertain a great deal, especially when I'm filming or finishing a book," she tells Weekend.
"I don't do that entertaining with a capital E. I just have friends over. I cook a lot, but I'm not a huge entertainer. I go through a flurry of it - I think 'Oh God I haven't had people around for ages - for three weekends running and then I go 'I need a bit of a rest'. I'm better at just chucking things together, rather than getting things in the diary."
Lawson first rose to fame with her 1998 cookbook How to Eat. As the story goes, she was inspired to pen the book after she observed a dinner party host in tears because of an unset creme caramel.
So what is Lawson's idea of a perfect dinner party?
"I don't do big - six people is a favourite number for me," she says.
"When you have too many people you can't talk around the table and that's the whole point. As much as I love food, the point is to enjoy their company and to chat. I know I'm greedy and I like food, but the most important part of the evening is not the food. You want to remember you had a good laugh or someone said something moving."
A journalist turned food identity, but importantly not a trained chef, the velvet-voiced Lawson is a champion for simple, delicious food. The 58-year-old has 10 best-selling cookbooks and 13 television series to her name, and she sees food as a central, even therapeutic, part of life.
"As human beings we need a creative outlet and we also need time to decompress; cooking can provide that," she says.
"It's not necessarily about having masses of people around. It's a day-to-day thing. A bit of stirring and decompressing in the kitchen can make all the difference. So many of us are fizzing about in our heads. When you're cooking you have to move your intelligence to your hands and your tastebuds.
"When I was a journalist I earned my living and my days were all about my thoughts in my head and words. Somehow to work in a non-verbal way, which is food, even though my task is to turn that back into words, that thing of moving out of the head space really I think is essential. In a way that is why a lot of people like gardening, or sports. I suppose with cooking there's an element of play. As you get to be an adult there's much less play in our lives."
Lawson hopes to bring out the playful creativity in this year's MasterChef Australia contestants when she returns to our screens tomorrow night. Her appearance two years ago was a hit with contestants and viewers.
"I'm thrilled to be back," she says.
"It seems to me to be a very good crop of cooks this year. I've eaten some exceptional food, really extraordinary. I have to say in one particular challenge to choose the top three dishes was so difficult because of who to exclude. We had a good five or six that could have been in that top three; I'm not used to that."
On her previous visit, she set a midnight snack challenge. This time around, she's decided on a brunch challenge.
"I don't think it has to be completely traditional," she says.
"I suppose you'd expect something with an egg in it somewhere. I'm always happy to see a pile of waffles but they don't have to be traditional (with the brunch brief). I would also be perfectly interested in a dish that came from another country like conjee. I think really you just need to feel it's a cohesive dish. It's up to their cooking to convince me."
After a whirlwind tour of India last year, Lawson is keen to dedicate a good chunk of 2018 to travel.
"I'm not a planner, and I don't want to jump straight away into another book," she says, referring to her latest cookbook At My Table.
"I do want more travel in 2018. It was a pretty frantic last year, so I'll do some travel and I want to be open to new things.
"I don't mean to sound like I'm into some new-age nonsense, although I am a bit, but I value memories more than things."
MasterChef's Nigella Week starts tomorrow at 7.30pm on Channel 10.