MATILDA WNEK asks ‘Must we create unholy compound nouns for every food group? Are we sure ‘choco-gratification’ earns its place in our immediate lexicon?’
We first encounter Nigella swinging round a corner into frame to a sprightly brass jingle, in a sequence that is unfortunately reminiscent of the opening credits of Sex and The City. It seems a bit unfair to pitch her so early against so competitive a model of femininity, and you start to wonder if perhaps the production team are quietly making fun of her behind her back. It strikes you quite forcefully, actually: this year’s Nigella is starting to show the effects of a life of domestic deity.
It is literally the most bizarre half an hour of television on air. We follow her busting around the streets of deli-class London, meandering through the “grottos of deep, deep delight” (grocery stores), slurring her way through tautologies as she orbits round her kitchen harvesting, for this episode, ingredients she ‘Can’t Live Without’. For a minute it’s uncertain whether she intends to cook you a meal or whisk you off to Bravissimo. We do return to her kitchen for some recipes, though I’m not sure how much scope for failure there is in combining chopped up Yorkie bars with butter to make something delicious.
Meanwhile, they go to odd lengths to showcase that, despite the episode title, Nigella’s merry gluttony is still on the right side of dignified. We go through an elaborate episode involving her trussed up in the back of a taxi on her way back from a party, receiving an order from her daughter for a tray of brownies for a bake-sale, as if she needs to have a legitimate reason to make cakes on a cooking show. During the actual baking, Nigella feels the need to air her self-control like a seal balancing a ball on its nose, stirring the chocolate into the mix while pointing out that it’s “as yet untouched by me”. It also appears to be incredibly important that we see the brownies handed over all accounted for. I half expected a subtitle to appear that assured us NO BROWNIES WERE CONSUMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PROGRAMME.
If they were trying to portray a safely self-controlled Nigella, the strange defensiveness had the exact opposite effect. Once you allow guilt to enter the Nigella kitchen, the whole thing becomes a little bit embarrassing. Instead of the usual dream-world of photogenic motherhood the place just feels a bit creepy, and her cooing vacant platitudes- “look at they yellowyness of this mixture- so uplifting!”- give her the air of a post-lobotomy patient. Even her turn of phrase, once so decadent and creative, feels just plain greedy. Do we really need that extra synonymous adjective? Must we create unholy compound nouns for every food group? Are we sure ‘choco-gratification’ earns its place in our immediate lexicon?
Full frontal lobotomy
It feels awful to be watching the lusty Nigella, once a paragon of unrestricted enjoyment, look like she might have been made to wear what was possibly a Trinny and Susannah wonder-girdle from the BBC store-room. I think it was that same sniggering production team that made the editorial call to keep the traditional ‘midnight feast’ epilogue, which, after the preceding choco-forbearance, appeared like an absurd post-script binge.