Q/ Cook, Eat, Repeat was released on the same day lockdown 2.0 began. How was lockdown for you and how has the experience impacted on your life?
Nigella Lawson (NL): I am so aware that I am incredibly fortunate. Yes, of course this has been an anxiety-provoking time for everyone, but I had a roof over my head, a bit of outdoor space, food on my table, and work that I could do safely at home. (Indeed, I wrote Cook, Eat, Repeat during the first, long lockdown).
I'm also very lucky that I enjoy solitude – so even though I spent several months alone, I didn't ever feel lonely.
Of course, it was hard not to be able to hug my children, but so many people really suffered, either with their health, facing their own illness and death, or that of those they love, and struggled to make ends meet, or had to risk their well-being by going to work, so I am just inordinately grateful.
Q/ How long did it take to put Cook, Eat, Repeat together? Is it possible to describe the process?
NL: It's hard to say exactly how long it took, because an essential part of writing a book (for me) is spent not writing it! I'd chosen the themes of my chapters, and I did most of the recipe testing and retesting (I am an obsessive tester and retester!) in 2019, but by the beginning of 2020, most of the recipes were still scribbles in my kitchen notebook, and needed to be typed up, which is not a straightforward process, as I often find I"ve left something crucial out of my notes, and so need to start testing all over again!
My concentration was rather shot at the beginning of lockdown, so even though days upon days with nothing in the diary is helpful if you"re trying to write a book, it took some time for me to find my way.
But then I wrote in shortish bursts - I am someone who needs to pace about as I write, and lie on the sofa with a mug of tea at regular intervals - from about 4.30 am (with an hour off for exercise!) to 5.30pm every day.
In the course of writing, I had to rejig the book quite a bit. I dumped a chapter on entertaining, which was called (dizzyingly inappropriately in the new world we found ourselves in) "How To Invite Friends to Supper Without Hating Yourself (or Them)!" replacing it with "Much Depends on Dinner" about family suppers, and I also added more recipes for one, and supplied directions for making some of the serves-4 recipes suit those cooking just for themselves.
I think the period of really solid writing took about 4 months. I had plenty more to say, but had written so many pages that I had to stop before getting all the planned themes/chapters in!
But writing necessarily means having to jettison ideas or recipes for reasons of space, or because the shape the actual book takes turns out to be rather different to the one in my head before I've written it. I feel it's important to trust the process more than the plan!
Q/ How did you choose which recipes to include?
NL: I wish I could tell you that there is any process at play here, but I just go on instinct.
Of course, because of the title of the book, a lot of the decision-making was obvious: I chose recipes that, in one form or another, I return to often.
But within that, I feel I just know in my heart which recipes clamour the most to be included. And as I started to realise that not everything would fit in, I have – and this is a bit of a regular step in all my books – what I call a Choose It or Lose It session.
I select the recipes I can't live without, and make sure they have the right home within the book"s structure, and then I see whether the recipes that remain on the list actually still belong in the book, and where they would go in it. If I can't find the right place, it's bye-bye (for now).
Q/ Lyrical, poetic, full of life, full of love... is Cook, Eat, Repeat a recipe book or a memoir?
NL: Well, as I have said before, for me, the recipe form is a highly-charged autobiographical form, so I don't feel that there is a distinction to be made between memoir and recipe book. And I certainly feel that Cook, Eat, Repeat blends the two forms from the get-go.
Q/ Connected to the previous question: might you ever consider writing a novel?
NL: When I was young, I certainly did want to write novels, but I know now that I'm not a novelist, and I feel that in writing about food does, in fact, take in so much of life. I feel I have found my métier and I have no ambition whatsoever to write a novel.
Q/ Do ever-changing food trends/fads have any impact on your recipes?
NL: I'd like to say no, but I think it's probably impossible to be entirely innocent of fashion and fads, even if I am not conscious of them as I write. And so many of the recipes in this book are ones that for me have stood the test of time, or are actually at odds with current trends.
But we are all children of our time, and so it's inevitable that one will be influenced to some degree or other by the flavours, cuisines, and ingredients that are part of the culinary landscape as one writes.
Q/ At what point in your life did you realise that your love for food was going to become your career?
NL: I think I was probably on to my fourth book before I realised this was going to be my career! I thought, when I embarked on it, that my first book was going to be a one-off, but other ideas then bubbled up with each following book, and I just went with it!
It still can seem a bit odd to me – in a wonderful way - that this has turned out to be what I do. But I love it, and feel anyway that most of the important things in life aren"t planned.
Q/ What can we expect from your live tour?
NL: This tour is really about the part food – and certain recipes – have played in my life, and that's as much about the emotional resonance of food as flavour.
I will also cover the to me very important theme of cooking for oneself. And I will certainly be talking about why I hate the term guilty pleasures!
Q/ What"s your favourite thing about being on tour/back on the road/meeting fans?
NL: I always love meeting readers, and talking to them, but now it has a particular significance since the pandemic has made this impossible to do for too long.
I think there is a very intimate relationship between a book and its readers, which I cherish. I feel a book tour really celebrates that, and questions from readers and the chats and exchanges that flow from them during the event give me a sense of connection which is a source of much joy and inspiration for me.
An Evening With Nigella Lawson is at Brighton Dome on Wednesday 24 November 2021. Book tickets: brightondome.org / 01273 709709