If you have any interest at all in fine food and dining, then you’ve probably heard of Nigella Lawson. This beautiful British chef is an international celebrity who’s been making a name for herself for many years now. She’s the bestselling author of eight books which, altogether, have sold more than six million copies around the world. She has a high-profile cooking show on the Food Network, and she even has her own iPhone app.

At the same time, Nigella stands apart from other celebrity chefs. Unlike some of the chefs you might see on TV, Nigella Lawson isn’t the least bit fussy, finicky, or pretentious. Her food rarely involves hard-to-find ingredients or trendy new techniques. Instead, her recipes focus on big, satisfying flavors and the kinds of robust meals that are perfectly suited to a family feast. She’s especially interested in traditional British home cooking and, of course, in the classics of French cuisine. Over all, Nigella’s style is warm, welcoming, and down to earth. Her fans might call her a “domestic goddess,” but Nigella never takes herself too seriously, and she never hesitates to laugh at herself. That might be why she’s such a popular figure and a household name.

Where is Nigella Lawson from?

Nigella was born on January 6, 1960 in Wandsworth, an affluent suburb in southern London. She was the daughter of Nigel Lawson, a conservative politician. Her mother, Vanessa, actually had connections to the food business; Vanessa’s family owned the famous J. Lyons and Co. food and catering company. So in a sense, Nigella was born into a family that cared about the finer things in life, especially good food and drinks.

Nigella attended Oxford University, where she studied Modern Languages. Years later, she confided to a journalist at the Oxford Mail that some of her best memories from her university days were centered around food. Nigella reminisced about eating Malaysian food at a local restaurant, and  shopping for ingredients at Oxford’s Covered Market, and then coming back to her kitchen to make a batch of French onion soup. She admitted that she “would go into people’s rooms and steal whatever liquor or bits of cheese they had to go in the onion soup – Benedictine I had to use once. That’s when I realized I was someone who liked feeding people, which I enjoyed, although it wasn’t such an eating-out culture as it is now.”. 

Today, a portrait of Nigella hangs in one of the colleges at Oxford University as an inspiration to today’s students. Authorities said that they had hung up the portrait female students who have “led lives of distinction,” because they might serve as role models for the young women studying at Oxford today.

Roasted Chicken on a bed of salad leaves

How did Nigella Lawson get started in the food business?

Nigella got her start working as a journalist. At the age of 23, she landed a job writing book reviews for The Spectator. She eventually moved to the Times of London, where she rose to become the deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times. However, she was not interested in getting into management-level work; she preferred to do creative work. That’s why she became a freelance writer, focusing on, you guessed it, food and other lifestyle issues.

Nigella never trained as a professional chef. In fact, she has often said that she doesn’t like being called a celebrity chef at all. She has described herself as a “kitchen klutz” because, she says, she’s just not naturally organized or graceful in the kitchen! For her, cooking is something she does for her family and her loved ones. Her philosophy is that food is something to be shared among those you’re closest to. Cooking is an act of love. That’s what Nigella was trying to get at when she wrote “How to be a domestic goddess,” a  cookbook which focuses on creating a warm, loving atmosphere and, of course, on exquisite baked goods.

Nigella Lawson’s own family

In 1986, Nigella married the journalist John Diamond. The two met when they both worked for the Times of London, and were, by all accounts, a very happy couple. They were together until Diamond’s untimely death, from throat cancer, in 2001. Diamond’s last words were spoken about his beloved wife. “How proud I am of you and what you have become,” he told her. The couple had two children: a daughter, Cosima, and a son, Bruno.

Several years later, the widowed Nigella fell in love with Charles Saatchi, a wealthy international art dealer. That marriage involved a lot of turmoil. Nigella accused Saatchi of emotionally abusing her; she said that he was controlling and that he subjected her to “intimate terrorism.” The couple eventually got divorced.

Delicious Cupcakes with frosting topped with a hazelnut

Nigella Lawson’s goals and inspiration

Nigella’s ultimate goal, she says, is to show her fans that “real cooking” doesn’t have to be difficult. It should be fun, easy, and enjoyable. Nigella told the Guardian that she was inspired to write her first book after she went to a disastrous dinner party, where she felt sorry for the exhausted host. She explained,

“I had gone to a dinner party where the host spent the time rushing back to the stove and then could be heard sobbing loudly. I think that too many people feel that they must strain to produce restaurant food in a domestic kitchen, and I wanted to counter that.” 

I do think the fact that I am a bit of a kitchen klutz, and fit cooking into an already busy life (and I started writing food books when I was a non-food columnist with young children), means that I cook in much the same way as my readers, or viewers. Real cooking, the sort that goes on in homes, does not have to be tricksy or difficult, and I felt it was important to demonstrate that. It's vital to show people how easy it is to get something good on the table.

She also told the Guardian that she wrote her first book, How to Eat, as a way to show her love for her mother and one of her sisters. Both of those women died early, untimely deaths, and Nigella said that she wanted a way to keep their memories alive. What better way, she decided, than through food?

Nigella Lawson’s most famous recipes

Nigella Lawson is famous for creating rich, enticing recipes that don’t call for a lot of elaborate ingredients or tricky techniques. Her meals are all the kinds of things that a family – even a family with fussy children – could serve  at their table. They are not especially health-conscious or diet-friendly. Nigella is known for her love of using duck fat to cook with, for example. 

Her most beloved recipes include main courses like roasted buttermilk chicken and coq au riesling, a stewed chicken dish. She is also known for luxurious, indulgent deserts, like chocolate mousse cake and coffee walnut layer cake.

Nigella has also said she loves American cooking. She was inspired by today’s contemporary southern food, for example, to create a recipe for ham braised in Coca Cola. She’s also a big fan of macaroni and cheese.

What is Nigella Lawson’s food philosophy?

Nigella believes that cooking should be, as she puts it, an “act of comfort.” That means that the food itself should taste great, but it also means that the process of cooking should be fun. As she said, “Food should make you feel good not only when you eat it, but when you cook it. Simple and feasible recipes can provide a break from the mania of the workweek, but don't need to be nostalgic or stodgy. Comfort food should be uplifting and make you smile.”

She stresses that food should be simple and enjoyable. There’s no point in cooking an elaborate meal if you’re only going to wear yourself out. And, she says, there’s no shame in making mistakes while you cook. Nigella has said, again and again, that making mistakes is just part of life; if you expect everything to turn out perfect all the time, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of disappointment! As she put it:

Cooking is like life: things go wrong all the time, and if you are afraid of making mistakes you are going to be very inhibited. Sometimes the wrong ingredient turns out to be the right ingredient. Almost every kitchen mistake can be righted.

Final thoughts

Nigella Lawson’s food philosophy is based on creating simple, appealing food that can bring people together across a table. Rather than worry about crafting the perfect chef-inspired creations, Nigella urges her fans to follow their own hearts and, of course, their own taste buds. For years, now, she has been sharing her message of cheerful energy and good spirits with the world. She is truly a different kind of celebrity chef! 

Nigella’s message can be an inspiration for both home cooks and restaurant chefs. In our confusing, high-stress times, we all need some extra comfort and good cheer. We could all stand to listen to Nigella’s advice.

Rather than try so hard to be perfect, we need to focus on producing terrific, family-friendly food that can put a smile on people’s faces and brighten their days.