‘Tondin tondetta color caffè… comes to my mind when I see Nigella Lawson’s friendly smile, soft silhouette and sensuous brown wavy hair.
That sentence is the first line of an Italian nursery-rhyme, a children’s riddle describing a mysterious item which kids challenge each other to guess.
She’s got that something to me, the charming and playful atmosphere aspect of the mysterious item of the rhyme (which I might reveal at the bottom of the page!).
Daughter of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher’s government, after gaining a degree at Oxford University, Nigella started her career in journalism working as a restaurant critic and book reviewer, to become, at the age of 26, the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times,
and to swap, twelve years later,
a notable editorial pathway for a recipe-writing career. Nigella’s work history reminds me of the stylistic evolution of the Rolling Stones: from a fine rhythm and blues beginning to a more conceptually naïve, commercial and spontaneous rock/hard rock sound.
I have a feeling that, at first sight, she appears to be just a pop television personality who’s neither a professional chef nor a serious journalist (according to a prejudice in the field affecting those who cover soft news or culture, rather than, let’s say, financial journalism or foreign correspondence). After watching some of her TV shows I finally got why she has been so successful and why men and women are both so obsessed with her character. It definitively is about those velvety cheeks and the mellow voice; it is about all the hypnotic sounds coming out of her kitchen; her smile, warm and joyful, and the inviting but reassuring way she approaches the audience. Nigella is one coherent whole with food and its pleasures: she expresses the enjoyment and beauty of eating with every part of herself, body and soul. As she perfectly explained: ‘I think cooking should be about fun and family. I think part of my appeal is that my approach to cooking is really relaxed and not rigid’. Cooking is therapeutic and food represents the enjoyment of living a life - the real life - that is not always very enjoyable.
At this stage you may want to know what the mysterious item was.
It’s a fruit: beautifully round, reassuring like an Autumn afternoon spent in front of the fireplace with the family. It has an interesting texture and flavour, although generally perceived as not particularly sophisticated, maybe because you would also find it ‘on the street’. This fruit is a little bit like Nigella: you think you got it right but you haven’t, there is so much more to know about it. It is intentionally simple but intense, intimate and charming. The fruit is la castagna, the chestnut. The chestnut joke wasn’t lost on Nigella. In 2012 Nigellissima TV show and book there is also a lascivious pappardelle with chestnuts and pancetta.