What sort of person feels the need to tell grown adults how to make toast?
On occasion, after a hard day’s work, it’s cookery shows that offer the point of least resistance. There are plenty of them out there, an array of inoffensive half-hours that may furnish you with a good idea for something to make but which, more often than not, simply wash over you in a none-too-challenging way. Sometimes you need telly like that, should you do something for a living which affords you very little time for smiling beatifically at the backs of your own hands (more anon). It’s a shame, then, that there’s a cookery programme out there at the moment which refuses to wash over me in a none-too-challenging way. In fact, I find it actively, intensely irritating. Here’s where I part ways with it, and why.
I’ve double-checked and if I’ve got this right, I’m not punching down here at the tedious celebrity bellyacher Nigella Lawson (net worth £15.5 million). I can only comment on her as a celeb, but my god, that’s enough. That’s right, by the way: over £15 million for a woman who has frequently stated that she’s a cook, not a chef, but somehow seems to claw in more cash than most of us will ever really comprehend, let alone have, even though we’re every bit as able to cook. Clearly, some cooks are more equal than others. At least chefs train hard and develop skills; at least chefs have a professional interest in getting it right, running businesses that train new chefs in their turn and – and this is important – create meals people would wish to eat. Gordon Ramsay may be a legitimate gobshite of a man, but I’d trust him to cook for me. (Provided he hadn’t seen the ‘gobshite’ comment just before.) As for our wealthy cook, however, I’m just not sure I want to live in a world where we reward someone with such obscene wealth for making a banana skin curry or hurling a cooked chicken onto a bed of crisps, and thinking this in some way is a worthy idea. I’m not being facetious there, by the way – these are recipes, real recipes, available in Nigella’s latest book – a book that, incredibly, doesn’t have her first name wedged hard into the title. Is this all part of an elaborate ruse? A woman seeing how far she can push things before people inevitably retort, ‘Oh, come on’? I half wish so.
The alternative is worse: Nigella is so far down the rabbit-hole of self-importance that she thinks this guff in some way passes muster. Perhaps we can hardly blame her; people keep paying her. So now tinkering with a manky banana skin, a thing which should go into the composting, constitutes a good idea for a meal, and isn’t she clever for thinking of it? I mean, it’s not as if she’s advising the millions of people in the country who are living on a shoestring, is it? That’s not Brand Nigella. Brand Nigella is all about twinkly fairy lights and London panoramas, though at least lockdown has put paid to the ghastly dinner party skits. She might be slumming it with her banana, but her condiments alone are often hard to come by: most people do not have a box full of imported liquorice, for example. Let them eat cake, I guess: horrible, horrible cake that has just been molested with a palette knife while Nigella looks cow-eyed to the camera, offering up a few possible double entendres for the benefit of Colin, 47, whose wife insists on watching the show for some reason – some vague sense of affiliation, or because she quite likes the pink Le Creuset-looking pan, or the pink spatula, or the expensive-looking pink mixer, all pinking pinkily in an aspirational London garret. It’s enough to put me off my bulgur wheat with leeks and …pink sauce. Natch.
This would all be bad enough, this ‘how to make a sandwich’ schtick (again, not being facetious) and Nigella waving utensils around in each of her hands like they’ve been painfully nailed there offers bemusement in its own right – how can you be a chef, sorry, ‘cook’ for decades and still not know how to operate a fucking spoon? But it all pales against Nigella’s dreadful idiolect, the part of her brand which she’s probably best known for after her recipes. I retain hope that she stops speaking like this when the camera stops rolling; judging by her appearances elsewhere, shorn of a sympathetic editor, it’s all rather less frilly, and in fact rather less friendly, too. That’s still preferable. Give me Nigella in a rare excursion from her comfort zone any day over the version she elects to portray. The language alone is intolerable.
Nigella likes to make up adjectives; she also enjoys inventing adverbs. Nigella really likes to lob in a bit of clever. She’s fun, see, but she’s still the thinking man’s totty at the same time; things can be scrummy, velvety and offer acres of pert deliciousness, but she’ll make sure she still alludes to Sisyphean labours and aesthetic values in the same breath. I imagine this is intended to seem accessible and just the right level of intelligent, but it comes across like Jane Austen with a head injury – tumbling from one extreme to the other, from delish to ‘hopeful acts of commonality’.
Clearly armies of people like being patronised; Nigella’s kind of low-skill, high-kawaii salt-and-sugar fests have millions of fans, people who hang on her every coined word and chintzy phrase. Both The Guardian and The Spectator have run puff-pieces on her in the last couple of weeks, presumably perfectly happy with her output and her style. People get oddly cross when you attack her. To be fair, not all the recipes look like shite, but enough do to seriously make me baulk at her ever-growing profile, and it’s totally acceptable to point and laugh at her methods, at the way she swings an expensive mezzaluna around whilst lisping about succulence and oodles of diaphanous tomatoes, at her describing fish fingers like she’s the first to discover them, at her batting her eyelids and working very hard to construct an image where we’d just all simply love to be her, really, and we absolutely believe her on the fish fingers. By the way, the Egyptian Tomatoes and the Moonblush Tomatoes are all just basically fucking tomatoes. This is what she does: she dumps her sprinkles onto pre-existing ideas, claims them as her own, wrecks them, then tells us in impenetrable language what ‘cooking’ really signifies whilst she half-fellates a badly-rendered churro. That’s quite enough of this nonsense. Yeah, it’s harmless. It’s also pointless when there’s better around. There are better cooks and chefs, and indeed many things to fill one’s time.
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