Nigella Lawson is coming to the Eccles Theater — and wants to know what Utahns are cooking and eating

In her latest book, she writes about cooking during lockdown, anchovies and the feel of a good eggplant.

(Matt Holyoak | HarperCollins) Nigella Lawson, author and TV chef, is scheduled to speak Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.

When Nigella Lawson steps out onto the stage of Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater on Nov. 18, the topic will definitely be food — after all, she is promoting her book, “Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes and Stories.”

But don’t expect a rote run through the talking points. Lawson, an acclaimed food writer and TV chef, likes to riff, to let the back-and-forth with the audience dictate how the night goes.

“I often think of it as a sort of culinary stream-of-consciousness,” she said in a recent interview. “I think there are many different ways a talk could go. And that’s, in a way, what interests me. I’m not there to keep bringing everything back to my book.”

The fun of doing live events, she said, is that “they have a momentum and a character and a quality of their own with each event that you do, because they’re based on human conversation and experience.”

HarperCollins published “Cook, Eat, Repeat” in April 2021, when Lawson and the rest of the United Kingdom was still under lockdown in England and couldn’t travel. She’s happy to do a bounce this fall — 16 North American cities in 23 days this month — to talk about the book, in which she interlaces recipes and essays.

The title, “Cook, Eat, Repeat,” she said, is “the story of my life.”

“What I attempted to do in the book is talk about, ‘What is a recipe? Why cook? What does cooking mean?’” she said. “And all the other things [food] encompasses in our culture, in our emotional life, and in our memory bank.”

Breadcrumbs and other pleasures

In the book, Lawson, 62, also sings the praises of anchovies and “brown food” (from stews to brownies), and tells her readers not to shy away from pleasure — which, she clarifies, is not the same as indulgence.

“You’ve got to be allowed to enjoy options, and that doesn’t mean having a wasteful, decadent approach,” she said. “I get a lot of quiet and peaceful satisfaction from cooking with all the leftovers I’ve got, and using up everything. When I make pesto, or boil potatoes, I keep the water to make bread with or to make a gravy with or soup, you know, I mean, it’s ridiculous if I have my freezer.”

Lawson said she also has “a ridiculous amount of breadcrumbs in packages,” saved from stale half-loaves. “Sometimes it gets a bit mad,” she said, laughing. “But even if it’s a teeny-tiny amount of something, you can make a meal out of it. And that’s very important, because that’s real cooking.”

Pleasure in cooking, she said, “isn’t about, ‘Let me lie down on a chaise lounge.’ It really is about being wholly engaged with every aspect of cooking. The way an eggplant feels in your hands. Is it heavy, or does it feel a little bit light? And then when you cook it, that strange thing when you cut an eggplant, it’s almost like a fake material. It doesn’t quite squeak, but almost exhales. …

“I like that whole full-body immersion — what things sound like, what they smell like, what they feel like, what they taste like when you cook,” she said. “It does help you decompress, because you just have to lose that endless crackling of words in your head. And [cooking] gets in underneath that.”

(For the curious: Yes, she does offer an eggplant recipe in the book — Burnt Onion and Eggplant Dip.)

“Cook, Eat, Repeat” is Lawson’s 13th book. She published her first, “How to Eat,” in 1998. Since then, she has had her own cooking shows, starting with “Nigella Bites” (which began in 2000 on the UK’s Channel 4) and including “Nigella Feasts” on the Food Network, cooking specials on the BBC and judging stints on “Iron Chef America,” “MasterChef” (In the United States and Australia) and “Top Chef.”

In the UK, the London-born Lawson is so famous that she’s one of a handful of celebrities that people know just by their first name.

Food during the lockdown

The roots of “Cook, Eat, Repeat” were more homey and low-key, she said, adding that she started writing it before the pandemic, but COVID-19 definitely colored it. (In one essay, she notes that it was “a strange thing to begin a book in one world and finish it in another.”) She cooked and wrote at home over the course of four months, which she spent almost entirely alone.

“I went onto Twitter quite a lot during lockdown, I suppose because I was writing the book and there’s nothing like having a book deadline to make you find other fascinating things to do,” she said, drily. But, she added, she connected deeply with her readers on Twitter.

“A lot of people felt left alone, like, ‘How do I cook this? I haven’t got that ingredient, you can’t go to the store that often,’” Lawson said. “So I did then bring that into the book, saying, ‘Look, when you think about what I don’t have — Spanish sausages or hot pepper salami or bacon or whatever it might be, or you’re vegetarian or vegan and you don’t want to use bacon — you have to say, “Look, OK, take the bacon.” What is the most important component of that dish? Is it the saltiness or is it the fattiness?’”

Salt is salt, and a good oil will provide the fattiness, she said. Vegans can add some depth with nutritional yeast. When she adapts bacon and lentils for vegans, she also uses mushrooms, because they soak up the fat and salt.

“I might put some smoked paprika in there to get something smoked, which almost does that same thing bacon can do,” she said. “So you don’t have to be an expert on ingredients, or to have read a dictionary of gastronomy. You just have to think, ‘Do I fancy the saltiness, all of that, or what am I missing here?’ We’ve all got a palate. You just have to trust your palate. You know what’s right for you in a way that other people can only guess at.”

Now that most of the world is more wide-open — enough where book tours are possible — Lawson said she’s eager to have conversations with her audience in person. She said she loves the “combination of coziness and wildness” of a Q&A: Both the trust they show in opening up with their questions, and the unexpected nature of what they ask. (The moderator for Lawson’s Eccles Theater appearance is Doug Fabrizio, the longtime host of KUER’s “RadioWest.”)

“They can ask a question, or they can tell me about a recipe that means something to them,” Lawson said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me. And people talk very personally. Because food does invite a great deal of personal recollection.”

Lawson said she also loves the opportunity to shop for food and cook in other cities and experience regional cuisines.

“I’m always interested to learn what it is that you cook here, and what should I eat? What foods do you produce here, what vegetables, fruit, or what bakery should I go to? I’m not interested in finding a fine-dining restaurant, that’s not my world,” she said. “But what are you actually cooking?…

“Because often it’s the same dish we share, but they’ll cook it in a completely different way, and that’s the wonder of cooking, really,” she said. “There’s so much clickbait about now, which is ‘You’ve been cooking scrambled eggs wrong all your life.’ But there’s not one way to cook anything.”

An Evening with Nigella Lawson happens Friday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m., at the Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., Salt Lake City. Tickets, from $25 to $44, can be purchased at live-at-the-eccles.com. Weller Book Works will have copies of Lawson’s book at the event.

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