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Cooking Nigella Lawson recipes for 365 days straight


Ailsa, does cooking stress you out?


Totally. That's why I never cook.

DETROW: But how can you be stressed listening to this voice and this advice?


NIGELLA LAWSON: Just concentrate on providing a welcoming atmosphere. You're not striving for perfection. You're not a restaurant. You're not having an ambassadorial reception. These are your friends.

DETROW: And that is Nigella Lawson, who has comforted so many wannabe cooks over the years through several TV shows and cookbooks. And it was one of those television shows that inspired Nathan Young to dive into the kitchen and to get to work. Young is a marketing professional from England. He and his husband were watching Lawson one night when Young cooked up a pretty big challenge for himself. He decided to commit to spending 365 days cooking Lawson's recipes.

Nathan Young and Nigella Lawson are here to talk about what happened next. Good afternoon to both of you.

LAWSON: Good afternoon.

NATHAN YOUNG: Good afternoon. How are you doing?

DETROW: Oh, I'm great. And this is such a fun challenge. And Nathan, I want to start with that. You know, I'm told that you decided to take this on after watching an episode of Nigella's show. What was the dish that set this going in your brain?

YOUNG: It was the gemelli with anchovies, tomato and mascarpone. We were watching it, and it was, you know, raining outside, cozy day on the sofa. And my husband had said to me, you know, oh, I bet that's actually really good; I really want that. You know, you can smell it almost. And it has anchovies in it, and anchovies are completely new to both of us. And I remember saying to him, you know, how can you smell it if you've never had anchovies? And we kind of - I went from there basically and decided to make it.

DETROW: And that's a leap, though, from, I'm going to try making that dish to, I'm going to do this every single day for a year. How quickly did it broaden out?

YOUNG: It was tasting that dish with the anchovies in it that was the kind of revelation, really. You know, how you can go so long through life, you know, avoiding anchovies, basically, and then you taste them in this dish and, you know, they brought a whole new level of flavor to everything that I never tasted before. So it was a bit of a revelation as to what food can bring.

DETROW: Nigella, I want to bring you in here. How did you first hear about this effort?

LAWSON: I think what I first noticed was these beautiful photos of my food. And here was someone who made my food look so much better than I make it look myself. And I think what I really loved was seeing what Nathan's likes were, how he chose to go from one recipe to another. And I felt so excited, and I thought, look, don't be bossy. Don't say, why didn't you do this and why don't you do that one? And sometimes I managed not to be too bossy, and sometimes I didn't stop myself. But it was - and then sometimes Nathan would cook a recipe that I might not have cooked for five years. And I thought - and I had to go and cook it again myself. So in a way, it was this wonderful ricochet inspiration.

DETROW: Nathan, you know, I think this probably reminds a lot of people of the wonderful Nora Ephron movie "Julie & Julia." And in real life, Julie Powell, the writer who took on the task of recreating Julia Child's cookbook for a year - when that really happened, Julia Child did not like that project, Julie Powell later wrote. So I'm wondering, first of all, it must have been intimidating to find out that Nigella was following along, but I imagine you were relieved when she approved of this, when she got on board.

YOUNG: Oh, no, absolutely. You know, it was definitely a big relief and a - definitely a concern when watching the movie. But, you know, the movie and the writings of Julie Powell was also an inspiration for me to kind of start this. And I was massively relieved when Nigella supported. But I also expected nothing different because I know she's very lovely to her followers and to her fans and everyone that cooks along to her food.

LAWSON: I really love it, but also, Julia Child wanted to teach the one correct way to cook certain things, which isn't really what I'm doing. My food is - it doesn't belong in the classical repertoire, and it's not the sort of food that people would eat in restaurants necessarily. If the person cooking the recipe feels like an observer, not a participant and not - doesn't have a sense of sharing in the ownership of the recipe, then in a way you lose that sense of community, and it's more like an exam. But I think that there's enough scope in a way to choose recipes that fit in with your life.

DETROW: And Nathan, I think that gets to something that really made this project connect with so many people. Throughout this process, you realized that cooking really helped with your anxiety.

YOUNG: Yes, that's right. Yeah, it did. I knew that, you know, it would give me that kind of half an hour to an hour at the end of every day to just kind of shut down. And basically, I used to cook quite kind of chaotically before, as we all do when we need to kind of throw something together. But you would get stuck in ruts, really, which I don't think helps anxiety, to be honest with you. And what can really help with anxiety is if you try and take as short a time or as long a time as you can every day to just kind of be a bit more mindful and focused on what you're doing at the time. You know, stop your thoughts from racing. So by kind of choosing a food writer and sticking with the same food writer, you'd learn to trust them over time, and you just kind of basically hand guidance over to them. And you just, you know, follow their steps for the 20, 30 minutes it takes to cook it. And then, you know, you sit down and enjoy the meal, enjoy the deliciousness and the fruits of your labors.

LAWSON: But don't you think, Nathan, as well, that in terms of it helping anxiety - 'cause I know that people often think like, are you mad; how can cooking help your anxiety? But in a way, what helps is that you gave yourself a plan and a structure, but not a structure that left you with no room to maneuver. And I think what's very difficult is when you just say, right, I'm going to cook more or I'm going to do this, but you don't make it easy for yourself by planning a bit or giving yourself the steps so that it always feels like this amorphous I must do, rather than, right, I'm going to do this.

And I think that cooking is stressful when people feel they have to do restaurant food or if they feel it's a bit of performance. And I think that's why when you cook just for yourself or just for the people you live with, on the whole, you're not thinking about that part. You're just thinking about you want something lovely for dinner that doesn't - isn't going to use every pot and pan in the house.

DETROW: I do want to ask about your get-together at the end of this project. Nigella, you decided, as Nathan approached Day 365, that you wanted to host him and make lunch for him.

LAWSON: Well, yes, I wanted to cook for him. So he'd done my food such a lot, and I wanted to cook for him. Now, of course, by this ridiculous reversals, I then got quite nervous. Like, what am I going to cook? And I wanted to choose something that I really thought he'd like. And I went for some pork knuckles, which it's a recipe for pork knuckles with beer, apples and potatoes - quite a Germanic dish. But I used hard cider rather than beer. I could tell by his cooking that he was someone who would like crackling and the lusciousness of, you know, fatty meat.

DETROW: I regret asking this because I purposely ate lunch before this interview, but when you describe the pork knuckles, my stomach started rumbling. But I'm wondering, Nathan, what did the pork knuckles taste like?

YOUNG: Oh, brilliant. You know, wonderful. You know, delicious, tender meat. And you know, Nigella's right. I do like kind of fattier meats 'cause, you know, they're soft and moist. And the crackling was, you know, out of this world. And, yeah - and the apples that kind of collects all the fatty juices underneath that are cooked within the cider, and the caraway was in there as well. I might even give it a go myself, or a version of it.


DETROW: That's Nathan Young, a marketing manager from Manchester, England, along with cookbook writer Nigella Lawson. Nathan spent 365 days cooking Nigella's recipes. Thanks to both of you for talking with me. It was a lot of fun.

LAWSON: Oh, it was so lovely. And, you know, Nathan is no doubt going to be a cookbook author of the future.

YOUNG: Very generous of you. Thank you.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.