GODDESS of FOOD

A swooning fan sends a valentine to Nigella Lawson, host of the steamiest cooking show around.

February 10, 2002|By Peter Jensen

Dear Nigella:

I hope you don't find this letter too forward. We haven't actually met in person and here I am, a mere newspaper reporter and you've become this big British TV sensation.

Let me first state that I have nothing but respect for your professionalism, your self-professed modest cooking skills, and your impeccable English accent. I even have a copy of your cookbook, How To Be a Domestic Goddess, sitting on my desk.

But I feel compelled to inform you of the following: You beat the egg whites in my souffle, my little English trifle. Hubba, hubba.

Whoa, did I just write that? I'm terribly, terribly sorry. But something just came over me. I think it was the recent episode in which you are shown bathing in the candlelit tub, smiling rapturously between spoonfuls of papaya and raspberries.

Let's see Emeril mine that territory. Bam that, pal.

So I'm sending you this Valentine -- cleverly disguising it as a newspaper story (and thus saving myself untold Euros in postage) -- to let you know how I and pretty much every American heterosexual cable-wired male feels about you since your cooking show, Nigella Bites, got picked up by the style. and E! networks in November.

You are welcome in our kitchens anytime to cook anything pretty much anyway you'd like.

Ms. Lawson, please allow me to recall the exact moment you came into my life. I was channel surfing on a Friday night (I am married after all) and, by the purest chance, came across your hour-long holiday cooking special.

I think you were sauteing shrimp, but I wasn't exactly paying attention to the recipe. You carried them proudly to your guests in the dining room. Some sensuous tune played in the background. You sat down and began scooping these, warm wet shrimp into your mouth, mopping up the extra juices, licking your fingers, laughing with the others.

The camera lingered over your food and your raven-haired tresses in soft focus, a form-fitting sweater stretched across your healthy figure, all in tight but flattering close-

ups. It looked more like a romantic film than some instructional video, not grainy or harshly lit.

Please understand, I grew up with Julia Child, a talented chef for sure but whose presence is unlikely to prompt too many carnal thoughts. I was a big fan of the 70s Galloping Gourmet Graham Kerr (until he emerged from TV exile in the 90s as a fat-free, but sadly, also personality-lite, healthy cooking guru).

Even today, I'm a PBS / Food Network / style. / HGTV addict, capable of discussing the merits of Emeril (fun to watch, but so-so recipes) to Jacques Pepin (great chef, but surprisingly uptight for a Frenchman), the Iron Chef (weird, really, truly weird), and Bobby Flay (who seems to appreciate himself more and more each day).

But holy poached quail eggs, then you came into my life. You have opened up a whole new frontier. Never before had I found someone who pushed sexuality - or at least sensuality - in the kitchen /

dining room / bathtub and made it seem so gosh darn approachable.

You can't deny it. Of course, it doesn't hurt that you have the looks of Elizabeth Hurley with a pinch more curves and a smidge more brains. You even cook with your hands, measuring ingredients and often mixing them together with your fingers.

In one recent episode, you opened the show stumbling into the kitchen in your satin bathrobe, mixed up one of those nasty raw egg and Tabasco concoctions and complained of a hangover from a big night before. Then you threw back the whole darn thing in one gulp -- from a martini glass, no less -- and announced you were going back to bed.

Yesssss.

Clearly, you are not one of those fussy, priggish chefs who blends together exotic ingredients into weird combinations and expects us to be impressed. You make no bones about the fact that some of your recipes are lifted out of cookbooks.

I saw you make one salad by chopping up the vegetables in a food processor. None of that fancy knifework like your male counterparts on Food Network. "Do not lose sleep if you don't have time for onions to macerate," you warned me later in the same recipe.

It was at that point I knew we were kindred spirits. I seldom take the time to marinate my onions. (Let's make my maceration shortcomings our secret, dearest).

Not too long after that, I finally figured out your show wasn't really about cooking, not with the dim lighting and the soft focus and the extreme close-ups.

Actually, the big clue was when I watched you bake and you listed all the measurements in metric weight - 125 grams of eggs, 250 grams of flour, that sort of thing -- and your American networks didn't bother to run a subtitle with conversions.

And heck, why would they? It's not like we're going to try doing this ourselves. And for heaven's sake who would take advice on cooking from the English, lovers of fried fish, bland sausages and many other forms of bad food?

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