Despite sleep deprivation, jet lag, lost luggage and what she fears might be the beginnings of a scratchy throat, Nigella Lawson beams rays of good energy as she sips a martini at the back of Petit Trois, Ludo Lefebvre's tiny French bar in Hancock Park. Warm, funny and self-deprecating, Lawson jokes about the intense media scrutiny she faces when she's home in London. "My laziness is greater than my vanity," she says. "When I'm not working, I'm not in makeup and I don't brush my hair and I'm forever being photographed. And people say, 'She looks 108.' And I say, 'Well, I am 108.'"
With a new cookbook, Simply Nigella, a new BBC unscripted cooking show of the same name (she hopes it will be here soon) and a life that has changed drastically in the three years since her last book, Lawson has a lot on the line. Perhaps more than any other of her books, Simply Nigella feels intensely personal.
"It's a real mix of coziness and serenity," Lawson says as she rips into a baguette and scoops butter. "There's so much light in my new house, and we really captured that feel, I think."
The coziness of the book comes out in everything from chapter titles (there's one called "Breathe," another called "Quick and Calm") to the kinds of food and occasions Lawson is writing about. These are recipes for comforting oneself, for weeknight cooking. There's a chapter titled "Dine," with recipes for larger groups that take more time, but much of the book is recipes for simple, elegant nourishment for one or two people. In a year where many cookbooks coming out are grand statements with complicated recipes, Simply Nigella feels like a generous and forgiving gift.
In person, Lawson is every bit as charming and, yes, beautiful, as she appears on television and in her books. But she's also whip-smart and sharply witty, attributes that are reported less often than her looks. I wonder if this intense focus on her appearance bothers her. "I think had I started all this younger I would have minded more," she says. She talks about how, in her early days as a print journalist, she wrote and did radio but never appeared on television because she wanted to known for her words and not her looks. "I waited until I was 40 to do TV and 50 to do HD," she quips. But she admits that it's complicated, and as much as she tries to ignore what's written about her, some of it gets to her. "Because we're all pathetic and insecure, the one thing I find bad about it is that I worry that when people meet me they'll be disappointed. And of course, in Britain, so much of what's out there is 'has she gained weight,' 'has she lost weight?'"
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It's been a year since Lawson has been in Los Angeles, and you can see the joy in her eyes as she reunites with chef Ludo Lefebvre, who was her co-host (along with Anthony Bourdain and Marcus Samuelsson) on The Taste, the ABC cooking competition show that ran for three seasons and filmed in L.A.
While she loved spending time in the city and loved her co-hosts, Lawson says, something about The Taste's brand of food television never sat quite right with her. "I don't believe cooking to be a competitive sport," she admits. "And really, I'm not looking to be a TV presenter."
But isn't TV exactly what she's going back to? For Lawson, it's really all about the books, and about the cooking. "People say, 'This book is a TV tie-in,' and I say, 'No, the TV show is a book tie-in!' It's the words I'm passionate about."
Lawson is in town for a couple of days, and you can catch her tonight in conversation with L.A. Times food columnist Russ Parsons as part of the Live Talks L.A. series, at the Crest Theatre in Westwood. She'll also be signing books at Williams Sonoma in Beverly Hills on Saturday afternoon.