16 October 2017

A lifesize cardboard cutout is often the logical conclusion of an unhealthy obsession with a public figure – but in my case, Nigella Lawson was a fixture in my kitchen long before I started to love her.

She was a gift from my sister Jess who worked at Officeworks and whose access to an industrial printer was never used for good. I was turning twenty-one (‘adulthood’) and must have publicly announced my intention to get my shit together, which included learning to cook.

At the time I was subsisting on mi goreng, black coffee and a fermented paste I had invented by mixing Metamucil fibre supplement with Yakult so that, at the very least, my bowel movements didn’t look like I was subsisting on mi goreng and black coffee.

Jess’ logic was that a towering, six foot Nigella Lawson in my kitchen would shame me into action.

Why Nigella? I don’t know. I was only aware of Nigella through pop culture ubiquity – not even her true self, but the aspects of her character ripe for parody – her curvaceousness, sensuality, double-entendres, silky British voice. Oh, and I’d seen her do a couple ads for Twinings.

But it could have just as easily been Gordon Ramsay, or Guy Fieri. I have my own theory that, as a style icon, Jess probably picked her because she has the best high-res images on Google. Save for being 2D, she looked startlingly real, and you had to squint to isolate the individual pixels of ink in her face.

I didn’t acclimatise to her presence immediately. The first night after receiving her, I zombie walked to the kitchen at four a.m. to get a glass of water and jumped out of my skin when I saw the hourglass silhouette of a mystery woman in my house. That sharp adrenaline spike made returning to sleep impossible – instead, I binged Nigella videos to suck the venom out of her, to get to know her.

I was struck by her lack of sentimentality when cooking. Each recipe was simple, packed tight with shortcuts. She jettisoned the ingredients that weren’t worth the trouble they created, that stood between her and enjoying the process of cooking as much as the food it created – onions were subbed out for shallots (‘so much easier to chop!’), mincing garlic subbed out for pre-infused garlic oil (‘who has the time?’).

Within a week I had attempted her ‘Curry In A Hurry’, within two her ‘Rapid Ragu’ (I soon discovered just how many of her recipes were named for how little time they took).

There was something about her presence in my kitchen – I felt at once her desire for me to succeed, and the warmth in knowing she’d still be there if I failed.

I tried to explain this to Jess one day after she remarked that it had been six months and I still hadn’t got rid of her.
“Sounds like what having a mum is like” Jess mused.
“Yeah,” I replied, “probably”.

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