Nigella Lawson is coming to town. We talked to her about lockdown, cookbooks and, of course, food.

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			Nigella Lawson is coming to town. We talked to her about lockdown, cookbooks and, of course, food.
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Nigella Lawson loves food and, maybe even more, loves chatting about it with other people.

“People often want to talk about recipes they grew up eating that they can’t help but associate with someone very dear to them who they’ve lost,” said the English food writer and television host during a recent Zoom call from her home in England. “It can go from there and be very bolstering and brisk and practical. But as a whole, it seems to cover an awful lot of life, as food does. Food is such a repository of memory above anything else.”

Lawson is currently touring the U.S. in support of her 13th book, “Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes and Stories.” Monday night at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, she’ll be interviewed live by James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim, chef and owner of Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza, Young Joni and Sooki and Mimi.

Here’s what she had to say about surviving the pandemic, selling cookbooks in the internet era and, yes, food.

Q: When the pandemic hit, you wrote another cookbook. Tell me about it.

A: I did. Despite the fact that it’s called “Cook, Eat, Repeat,” it was the sort of my lockdown cookbook. It was actually a pre-pandemic project. I’d written a bit of it and I’d certainly done the recipes, organized the chapters and so forth. But then suddenly the world changed. So, you know, whatever you write has to belong to the time. I was going to have a chapter in it called “How to Invite Friends for Dinner Without Hating Them and Yourself.” And that suddenly felt dizzyingly inappropriate. So I instead used the opportunity to change it to a new chapter about the value of the evening meal, because that seemed to speak to our experience more.

I was alone in that first lockdown. There was something very moving about feeling that sense of connection with people. Because in a way, when you write, you’re talking to people, even if the people aren’t with you at the time. All the words really kept me company. It was a very companionable experience, just me and this book emerging.

Q: And now you’re touring the book.

A: To have the chance to talk about it with actual people in a room is something I hadn’t quite dared allow myself to hope for. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long without coming to the States. So it’s a joy to be able to do that now. And it’s something I probably couldn’t have imagined while I was writing the book.

The thing is, food is a constant in life. And yes, for a lot of people, their relationship to food changed during the pandemic. But it’s not as if it’s a relationship that disappears afterward because it is just there. We need to eat to live and we eat with others as a way of connecting with them. And I write about food as a way of connecting with other people. I think this whole new society of obsessive eaters came to the fore. And I’m very, very happy to welcome them to this happy world.

Q: Did being in lockdown change you?

A: I think it encouraged certain aspects that were already in me, but which are not normally so able to be indulged, like solitude. I’d written a piece in the Sunday Times of London in January 2020 about one how, as I got older, I needed more and more solitude. And then it was March and you’re going to be given a big old lump of it.

Since then, I probably have found it harder to go out. I have gotten used to having quite big tracts of time to myself. But I think I’m back in the swing of things and I don’t feel anxious about being surrounded with people.

Q: I know what you mean about the anxiety. I remember first being out in big crowds again and feeling like I needed to get out of there.

A: Yeah, it can happen. I mean, it was so extraordinary, a different way of living, wasn’t it? It was like being a child again to some extent. Like you sit down and do your schoolwork, you eat your evening meal, you’re allowed to watch this much on television and then bedtime. But we knew everyone in the world was going through it. Of course, some people had it harder than others. But it was an odd thing to feel that the whole of humanity was facing this catastrophe together.

Q: When did you decide you needed to return to the road?

A: Actually, I wanted to last year. I begged and pleaded. I said I’d sign all manner of waivers. I wouldn’t sue anyone if I caught COVID, but that wasn’t allowed. I couldn’t go. So I’ve been sort of itching to for a while and I jumped at the chance. There is something about meeting readers. Talking about food with like-minded people is an immense pleasure and privilege. I also can’t wait to be eating my way across America. I loved retreating into my own food in 2020 and 2021. But I really need the inspiration and the excitement of other people’s food. I will pack my elasticated pants and be ready to eat my way through the land of plenty.

Q: What are your live shows like? Is it basically a conversation with the audience?

A: The first half is a discussion on stage. I don’t go armed with soundbites and a manifesto. I want to listen to what I’m asked and answer in the moment. It’s interesting because the personality of the person talking to me will inform a great deal of that.

The second half is audience questions, which is always my favorite part of the evening. Obviously, I have no idea what I’m going to be asked, which is also interesting. The questions really can range quite enormously from night to night and from person to person. And there, a conversation develops. It’s not a lecture. When you talk about food, you’re talking about so many other things in life. It can get quite emotional.

Q: I think you have a very warm and inviting personality.

A: I feel there is no point conversing with people unless you’re straightforward and you say what you say. Sometimes, I think people think I’m perhaps more judgmental or elegant than I am, and I’m not that person. I think about it in same way as when I do my TV shows. From the very beginning, I said I cannot be scripted even though I would write my own script. I can’t because I’m not a performer. I think it’s better to talk from the heart or, you know, from the seat of your pants. Also, I’m nosy. I like hearing about other people’s lives, what they cook, what they think about life. I love that.

Q: In this time when there are free recipes everywhere online, how do you manage to sell cookbooks?

A: I do have a lot of free recipes on my website. I also notice that someone who has huge followings on Instagram or any of the other various platforms, when it comes down to it, they want to write a book. I don’t know why it’s still like this. Maybe because books have been so much part of our currency as a culture for so long. It feels more personal when you’re holding a book in your hands than it does when you’re gazing at a screen.

I think those who want cookbooks want to be given the luxury of wallowing in it all a bit more. For me, a recipe isn’t just about saying how you make a particular dish. It has to convey something about the cooking process itself. A book is a conversation with a reader, and it’s a very intimate relationship, the reader and writer. It’s what makes recipes come alive as well.

Nigella Lawson

When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
Tickets: $75-$39.50; 800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org

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