For more than 20 years, in book, show and deed, Nigella Lawson has been inspiring, emboldening and sharing know-how. The project: enabling people to cook with confidence so they can gather to eat in relaxed pleasure. But for many, it was only during the pandemic that the power and importance of home cooking really clicked.
"A lot of people who had not thought of themselves as cooks learnt that what people get from food is more than just enjoying the taste and keeping you alive," she says.
"Cooking provides sustenance and pleasure and also structure. This came sharply to the fore in lockdown. You've got a focus: you're stirring that pan, your focus is on the smell that wafts and takes you somewhere. It's being absorbed into those rituals. The simple act of cooking became a way of finding order in the shambolic."
Lawson was one of many in solo isolation. She has long been an advocate of quality cooking for one. "Some people think it's not worth cooking if it's just yourself," she says. "That's the saddest thing you could ever think. I felt very keen to encourage people to cook for themselves."
Eating solo has its advantages. "Perhaps people felt slightly excluded seeing pictures of family meals but there are good things about cooking for one," she says.
In some ways, being alone may have kept cooking enjoyable. "If I'd been cooking for children, three meals a day plus snacks, I might by the end of it feel I never needed to see a pan again," she says.
Lawson believes all cooks can be kinder to themselves, and that perhaps the pandemic has prompted a shift. "We live in a world that is very much about pushing for achievement and novelty and concerned with packing in as much as you can," she says.
"Sometimes people feel – me in particular, I'm one of those people – we feel flustered by that."
She hopes the constancy and centrality of home cooking over the past two years may have stripped away some fluff. "Food at home doesn't have to be flashy or complicated," she says. "It's not a performance, you don't have to put on a show."
The pleasures can be profound. "It sounds sort of woo woo, but when bad things are happening, if you are grateful for the good things – and food is that – and if you can learn a less punishing way of looking at cooking that seizes what's joyful, then that's what is so powerful about food," she says. "I feel it is really the story of our lives."
Nigella Lawson will visit Australia as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 30th anniversary celebrations, with a sold-out event on March 27, and a newly announced second event on March 26.