Feast: Food That Celebrates Life
by Nigella Lawson
published by Hyperion
480 pages, 2004
Confessions of a Food-Porn Addict
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
It could not be more appropriate that Nigella's name is also that of a spice, a seed that's the same jet black as her hair, with a vaguely oregano-like scent.
There are so-called celebrity chefs, and then there is Nigella. In my house, she and I are on a first-name basis. Or perhaps I should say, if she were ever to come to my house, we would be.
I've spent the last two years or so getting to know her. I have read the occasional magazine article or interview. I have watched her TV shows. But mostly, I've gotten to know Nigella best through her eating. Not her cooking: her eating. I believe this is a distinct difference that Nigella believes is important. After all, she herself named her first book of recipes How To Eat. It was, in truth, almost biblical, with countless recipes for just about anything one could name. It was all black ink on white pages, hardly the luxuriously art-directed volumes that would follow: How To Be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Bites, Forever Summer and the latest, Feast.
The new book, unlike the last two, are not TV series companions. Rather, this is a stand-alone collection of recipes that seem to spring from Nigella's desire -- if not need -- to create wonderful food for friends and family to eat at traditional feast times.
Its contents are generously arranged into sensible groupings: Thanksgiving & Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, Easter, Passover, Hallowe'en, Rosh Hashana, etc. There are even sections for meatless feasts, kiddiefeasts and funeral feasts. If people are going to gather, this book has the recipes that'll make 'em happy to have shown up.
As of this writing, I can not with any honesty say that I have prepared even one of the recipes contained therein. I can tell you that I have been preparing Nigella's recipes for some time, and each and every one of them has been a delight to prepare and a genuine treat to consume. Though some recipes are more challenging than others, by and large all of her hand-holding seems designed to boost not just the quality of what one might eat, but also the size of one's ego.
Nigella herself, on TV, once quoted someone who said that while French food is meant to call attention to the chef, Italian food is meant to call attention to the food. I submit that Nigellafood is meant to draw attention to those who eat. For it is the eaters who truly bring food to life.
I mean, is there anything more satisfying that preparing something you think will be good, and then having someone else eat it with an almost immeasurable gusto?
If you've ever seen Nigella on TV, then you know she is an extraordinarily tactile chef. She uses her fingers whenever possible. She likes to hear the sounds ingredients make when they're being combined. As she prepares it, Nigella connects with food in a way that might be called spiritual. When I first started watching her cook, she intoxicated me. I told friends that she was, for me, food porn; later, I learned she took this same view, admitting in an article that her "thing" was gastroporn. I must confess that I love that we both feel the same way about what she does.
But back to Feast. As I was saying, I have not delved into its wonders yet. But I can tell you that each recipe is accompanied by stories and feelings and opinions and background, written by Nigella herself (and many are also accompanied by color photographs). You think she has a way with food? I'll tell you, she has a way with words, too. The way she writes, you'd swear you were right there with her, stirring or slicing or whipping or whatevering.
Nigella is, as I said, about eating. She turns the enterprise of preparing food inside out. It's not so much about how ingredients come together as it is about how food and eaters come together. It's about taste and texture and color -- the gestalt of eating.
I just had a thought: We've come a long way since Julia Child looked across her counter and implored us, as if we were children, to do things a certain way. Nigella is willing to show us the path, but is also willing to let us do things our own way. This is eating -- and yes, cooking -- for grown-ups. | November 2004
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse. He writes advertising for a large marketing firm and is building a small book publishing company in Lawrenceville, NJ, where he lives with his wife and sons.