Nigella comes out biting with a tasteful return to the limelight
THE fightback begins here. Nigella Lawson, exposed as a cocaine user in a bruising court case, begins her rehabilitation this week as the champion of Britain's amateur cooks. She does so by launching an attack on professional chefs in a new television series.
Lawson's latest television vehicle 'The Taste' is a competition which essentially combines 'Masterchef' with 'The X Factor'. The programme, which runs for 10 weeks, sees professional chefs and amateur cooks compete against each other in blind taste testings, presided over by Lawson and two fellow judges.
In the first episode, to be broadcast on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm, Lawson -- described in the show as an "award-winning food writer and culinary superstar" -- takes sideswipes at over-elaborate, professional chefs. "Chefs obviously have a lot of experience, they have got techniques, they have training," she says in episode one.
"But actually home cooks are so used to thinking of food in terms of flavour, we are not so easily distracted by trying to do something clever."
Later in the programme, she castigates a professional chef. "This competition is called 'The Taste' and palate is so much more important than dexterity and technical know-how," she declares. At another point, Lawson (53), asks: "Why do people always think home cooks are not good cooks?"
Her insistence that amateurs are often better than professionals drew a sharp rebuke last night.
Jason Atherton, a Michelin-starred chef with three critically acclaimed restaurants in London and about to star in 'My Kitchen Rules', a rival cookery competition on Sky Living, said: "Nigella has never been a professional chef. When people go out to dinner, they don't want just nice-tasting pasta with a tomato sauce. These people are paying for Michelin-starred chefs to create an experience."
'The Taste', unlike its BBC rival 'Masterchef', pits amateurs against professionals. The series is expected to be a hit, given the headlines attracted by Lawson over the past year, beginning with images of her then husband, Charles Saatchi, with his hands around her throat at a restaurant and ending with an admission in court that she took cocaine. The American version of 'The Taste', now on its second series, has already been a success across the Atlantic.
Lawson's spokesman has said the cook had seen her popularity soar despite -- or possibly because of -- the grilling she received in the witness box at the trial of two sisters found not guilty of fraud. Lawson has been widely perceived as the victim of a feud with her ex-husband and her admission that on very rare occasions she took cocaine at difficult times in her life has apparently not harmed her standing.
The first episode of 'The Taste' begins with 'X Factor'-style auditions in which 25 competitors -- a mix of professionals and amateurs -- compete to reach the final 12 and the knockout stage. Lawson and her fellow judges -- Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre -- each pick four contestants to mentor. One is then knocked out each week before the final.
differs from 'Masterchef' in that the judges blind taste the food which is served to them only on a spoon. They have no idea who has served them.
Last week, in her first television interview to publicise the US version of 'The Taste', Lawson said of her court ordeal: "To have not only your private life but distortions of your private life put on display is mortifying, but there are people going through an awful lot worse."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)