By Bill Lytton
“A lazy long slow braise in the oven and deep pleasure awaits”
— Nigella Lawson, Simply Nigella, Ep. 4
Three hours have passed, it would seem, since we started on a verbose journey into the crude depths of the chai-dairy-free-almond-milk-mega-breakfast muffin. Nigella starts strong. With reckless abandon for rational word-use, straight-talking and general timing; she convinces us into thinking this muffin is not just a regular muffin recipe with almond milk and the excavated contents of chai tea bags.
Is it a con? Or is it the artistry of the small-time street capitalist persuading you that this gen-u-ine Rolax will lower your fuel bills? All is not as it seems. We saw this last week with the whole Caesar Salad affair. Twitter folk took the time to read between those alliterative adjectives to see that Nigella’s Simply Caesar was merely baked lettuce with a bit of fish and bit of egg.
True, celebrity chefs have always resorted to sheer zeal when advertising their recipes in the cut. I’m still struggling to deal with the image of Paul Hollywood fondling a bowl full of that staple white-stuff and groaning: “Ah, beautiful.” But zeal can be forgiven. Maybe that lemon is luscious and maybe, even, that liquid is “gorgeously tinted” – to quote her directly.
At this point, I am duly convinced that Nigella is either a semi-functioning shyster, or a fully-functioning mad-person. Those heinous descriptions are the backbone of the show, if only to mask the actual fact that nothing is really happening. Well, other than tiny tweaks to simple, standard recipes. At one point we’re told to add “simply water” to the Asian short-ribs we won’t be making.
Any competent salesperson knows that showmanship, charisma, and brutal gaul win-out. That’s maybe why we’re treated to a bizarre scene of cake preparation: Nigella, in eveningwear, in a brooding candelit room, pouting over the blender as she “blitzes” – Oreo cookies into a ”beautiful earthy rubble”. Lord, what would Anthony Bourdain say?
Yet the show fails to conjure up anything of a life to aspire to – something close to coherent. Between the jarring descriptors – “Flintstone hunks of meat” – and the pouting, we have to deal with the cameraman’s tendency to rely on a disorienting tunnel-vision masquerading as soft focus. I’m told by street people that the focus puller long went mad from sheer consistency.
Adding to that, are the gratuitous and disjointed shots of London: Chelsea, the River Thames from various angles, and one particularly voyeuristic shot of a couple on a bench through the trees at Hyde Park.
There is, at least, one redeeming moment in this analysis thus far; that is the image of the cameraman backed into the pantry trying to invent new ways to soften the focus while Nigella spouts uppity about the characteristics of hoisin sauce – “the most fashionable of tastes… umami”. We can experience the exact moment the soul leaves his body.
This is not to disparage Nigella herself in anyway, somebody has creative control and appearances have to be upheld. After all, what are all the rich white men and women going to watch after Kirstie and Phil fail to find a palace that’s palatial enough for other rich white men and women. It’s tough out there.
On balance, the show does offer some moments of respite from all this general hysteria. There is peace in the dysphoric realm of flora we can assume is the garden. This is where our heroine lavishly languishes in luxury – a hallucinogenic dreamscape of jungles and groundbreaking levels of soft-focus. And that’s perhaps the only advice to give for watching this show: consume something extra-curricular in preparation.