Earlier this week I heard Nigella Lawson, formerly voluptuous, the brunette Marilyn Monroe of food, on NPR explaining why anyone needs to read her new cookbook "Nigellissima in Italy" when there are more than 3,000 books on Italian cookery alone. Good question, I thought and she came up with a perfectly good answer too: Nigella Lawson basically said because her book is written from her personal point of view. For instance, her Italian cookbook has a recipe she found on a scrap of paper in the kitchen of a house where she was staying, she revised and made the dish. Another example Lawson used was a recipe that is so old or has ingredients that are so rare that a good cook must re-interpret it, otherwise it's too complicated. The recipe is her take on the dish explained to her readers.
In case you have somehow missed the boat on Nigella, she has written a zillion cookbooks over the past decade and she is a charming hostess on television and on the radio. She has looks, brains and she can write and cook. This is the perfect combination for media and audiences in general right now. Nigella is also on a television show — and other than Iron Chef back in the old days, I don't watch food television, it just makes me hungry — called, I don't know what it's called, really maybe “Taste.” The other person on the show is the wildly-popular Anthony Bourdain. From the interview I got the impression that she and Anthony Bourdain taste foods and decide whether or not they taste good. The radio interviewer, who likes Nigella and has interviewed her before, asks her another good question. Why, if she has said that she hates food shows so much, would she want to be on one? And Nigella has another perfectly good answer: Because she changed her mind and this show is different in two ways: 1. Anthony Bourdain has total integrity and 2. You don't have to shame the contestants whose food you hate. The cooks being judged are not in the studio with you. You just eat the food and talk about it.
Am I wrong to be fed up? What is there not to like about gourmet food, television experts, well-written menus, beautiful photography, dining as a pageant, an experience, a perfect zen moment of your life? Nothing at all. I've had my share of fantastic meals, mostly out of sheer good luck (surprise is a very important element of this for me) but how can anything live up to the impossible can-you-top-this storytelling about food? If these experiences are about discovery — and they are — how can you enjoy something you've researched to death? Do you want to see Norma Desmond's first movie or her last? Would you rather see Mario Batali win another Iron Chef or make breakfast with his kids on The Chew?
I want to cut back, trim my media menu down to a half dozen basics: a good food photography book once a in a while (Ad Hoc Cookbook), reading fine writers about food and beverages (Jane Ammeson, Jane Dunne, Ruth Reichl), a movie or televsion series with food without being about food (Downton Abbey) and an occasional memoir that has scrambled eggs in it. I still can't live without scrambled eggs.