Nigella Lawson wrote her first cookbook after hearing a dinner party host weeping in the kitchen

Thank goodness she did.
Thank goodness she did.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

This month marks the 20-year anniversary of How to Eat, the cookbook that made the British food writer Nigella Lawson forever famous.

While Lawson has become synonymous in the years since with gorgeous roasts and luscious cakes, it wasn’t always thus. Before she was a domestic goddess, she was a newspaper writer and columnist in the UK, hoping to write “the great novel of the 20th Century — rapidly, or, it was going to have to be the great novel of the 21st Century,” she said in a recent interview with The Cut.

It’s very worth reading the Q&A in its entirety, for Lawson’s endearing description of the unlikely journey she took to becoming the food world darling of the early 2000s. In the interview, she describes the rather stuffy food culture of the late 1990s, and how she fashioned her book as a response to it.

[F]or us in the UK, it was meant to be the age of our great culinary renaissance, the ’90s. But it was very much taking place in restaurants. So, people started thinking they had to cook like that at home. And so really, in every single magazine article was really how to cook like a chef …

So, for me, I just thought, “This is ridiculous.” And what had propelled me was going to a dinner party at a friend’s house. We sat in her sitting room, at her table, and she was in the kitchen cooking quite elaborate food. And we could all hear her crying loudly in the kitchen. Everyone was getting quite awkward. It was not an easy evening. And I thought, “No food is worth that. Better to call in a pizza.” I thought, “Something’s going wrong here, that people think they have to perform.”

And that was that. We have that overachieving dinner party host to thank for the last 20 years of fluffy waffles, hearty fish pies, and greedy meatball sauce.