Nigella Lawson is a judge on and a producer of ABC’s primetime cooking competition show, The Taste. The author of Nigellissima shares why she champions home cooking, what she likes about blind tasting, and more about the show’s “shouty” boys.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: This show you're doing on ABC, it's called The Taste. Your cohorts, you've got three men, all of them professionals.
Nigella Lawson: I have.
LRK: And you're the home cook.
NL: I am the home cook, but as the home cook and the only woman, I'm the voice of reason in all senses. I think really there isn't a disparity between our aims, that really if you love food, you love food. In many houses there's fantastic food, and in restaurants there's fantastic food. In some houses the food is terrible, and we've all gone to restaurants where the food is terrible.
I think it's necessary to champion the home cook because people are apologetic. They say, “I'm just a home cook.” When, of course, it's home cooking that keeps the universe alive -- at least the human race alive.
LRK: You have Anthony Bourdain, Brian Malarkey, the chef from San Diego, and then...
NL: ...The great Ludo Lefebvre.
LRK: Right, the French chef.
NL: Yes, and talk about from central casting. He is a comedy French chef. I just adore that in him.
LRK: Sometimes chefs have a point of view that's a bit different. I'm not denigrating the home cook -- I am one as well.
NL: They do. I think chefs can over-complicate because the thing is when it comes to the very basics, they are charging money. And people want to go out and they want to pay money for something they couldn't cook at home. So, it can encourage, I think, a slightly manic pursuit of novelty, which doesn't always aid pleasure. Sometimes it isn't better; the knife skills begin to be more impressive and there are all sorts of ways you can cook something that a home cook wouldn't have access to. There are very few things for me that would ever taste more comforting and more uplifting than a home-cooked roast chicken, mashed potatoes, crisply cooked vegetables and a salad. So, it's quite hard to improve.
I suppose where this program gives a slight advantage to the home cook is that the dishes are not plated, it's just a spoonful. The ability of the professional chef to do that fancy footwork and plate decoration doesn't count for as much as it would otherwise. Maybe it just equals out the playing field.
LRK: And also you're tasting with your eyes closed.
NL: Well, I try to taste with my eyes closed because I feel that since I don't have the opportunity for a second mouthful, I have to concentrate fully, especially with those shouty boys. I need to shut my eyes and just go into some tasting sphere.
LRK: You're one of the producers of the show. Is this what you wanted from the show?
NL: I think so. It's a show that manages to be honest without being cruel. It seemed very important not to go into that sort of programming -- reality programming, really -- that gleefully humiliates people and makes me cringe. I think one of the advantages of tasting blind is you're only ever talking about the food. You're not talking about the contestants, so it's not personal. Of course no one wants to hear that their sauce hasn't worked or that there's too much acidity or not enough, but that isn't as hurtful as being taken apart personally. So I would like to think we all emerge with our integrity intact, but it's early days.
LRK: You're working with Anthony Bourdain, who can be pretty outspoken. I've never heard him hold back; let's put it that way.
NL: Well, that's certainly true. I described him the other day as the Mick Jagger of food and someone tweeted me and said not the Mick Jagger of food, the Keith Richards of food. Of course, that was better, so I stand corrected. But the things is that yes, he's outspoken and he's honest, but actually there is something very imminently civilized about him. He wouldn't be personally rude; I don't think he would be. He gets angry, but then no one gets as angry as the French Ludo.
So, as I said, there is quite a bit of shouting and sometimes I do feel as if I have to knock their heads together as you used to have to do to boys on the playground when I was a child. But most of all, it seems pretty good-natured. It's going to hot up and it's going to get certainly more competitive. My difficulty is that, as a home cook, I don't have that slightly driven need for conflict. So, that's going to be interesting whether I get out-shouted by the boys.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.