From Scratch columnist Lara McCormack smiles in excitement being so close to one of her early influences

From Scratch: A simply majestic night with renowned gourmet Nigella

he idea began with “maybe we can take a break this November, drive to Vancouver with the kids

The idea began with “maybe we can take a break this November, drive to Vancouver with the kids, spend a week exploring the food scene while visiting friends and family.”

Then I got the phone call… Nigella Lawson is coming to Vancouver on her book tour to promote her cookbook Simply Nigella. The timing was perfect — we closed our restaurant, booked accommodations, packed up, then drove 11 hours, only to find Vancouver at her best with the sun shining!

It’s been four years since I was in Vancouver; 10 for my husband. We spent a few years living and working in Vancouver after we got married, which was an amazing time in my life. I was fortunate to work at Barbara-jo’s Books to Cooks. It was the best job I ever had as I was surrounded by cookbooks full of knowledge while I worked with famous chefs and food writers who came to Vancouver to promote their book. I learned about the publishing business, got into some writing, became a bit more mature (in a good way) and grounded my love for cooking.

It was the Books to Cooks chef, Adrienne O’Callaghan, who encouraged me to go to Ballymaloe Cookery School for training, which I completed five years ago.  That period in my life set the stage for where I am today.

Now, where does Nigella fall into all of this? She wrote a book called How to Eat, which turned out to be the very first cookbook I ever read from front to back.  Nigella does not call herself a professional chef, but a home cook. Her passion developed while cooking for her family and friends, as well as over years of being a journalist and dining in restaurants. One day, a friend encouraged her to write a cookbook and she took the leap.

As years have gone by, she has written eight more cookbooks — all of them on our shelves at home and work. What I admire about her recipes is that they can be cooked at home or applied in restaurant settings. There is a comfort yet sophistication to all her recipes.

After dressing up for the evening, we walked into the Vancouver Club where the ambience was set for Nigella’s arrival — elegant, comfortable with a touch of sparkle. Simi Sarah conducted the interview, which, in a few words, was entertaining and insightful with great advice. Nigella stepped in the room looking beautiful and her sense of humour kicked in the minute she began talking — she had the whole room laughing.

Nigella discussed what she called mindful cooking as, after all, her cookbook Simply Nigella is about feel-good food that is cozy yet serene.

This is something many of us can relate to as we are dashing around to feed our kids and, in our case, restaurant guests. She mentioned how we should all be more present in that moment of preparing food and, as repetitive as it may be, focus on what we are doing. Enjoy the moment; savour the smell, the movement and the textures.  When you cook, it should feel good and be pleasurable. None of this feeling guilty about what you are eating. In Nigella’s words: “Relish it!”

She shared a lot about herself during the conversation. Nigella has a love for salty sweet flavours and always carries her own Maldron salt everywhere she goes.

She loves Italian food, is inspired by Asian with its playfulness of flavours, and is curious about Korean cooking. Her must-have kitchen ingredients include chilli pastes, ginger, lemons, garlic, butter, extra virgin olive oil, non-extra virgin olive oil, bacon fat (a must have to fry fish in it!), coconut oil, duck and goose fat.

As we stood in line to have a few minutes with her, I pondered what to ask her.  After all, this is a woman who has become a part of my family and business in an indirect way. Her cookie cutter sugar cookie recipe is used almost every holiday with our children, our guests in our restaurant have adored her chocolate cake, and her roast chicken recipe has been go-to for last-minute entertaining.

We had a lovely conversation. Nigella was very genuine and thoughtful in the few minutes we had with her. As for my question, I asked “What’s next?”  She laughed and said, “Who knows? Just enjoying the moment!”

Simply Nigella is published by Random House for $45 and is available at From Scratch — A Mountain Kitchen.

Lara McCormack is one of the owners of From Scratch – A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs where one can savour fabulous, seasonal food, sip from a selection of BC wines and enjoy the views of our gorgeous valley landscape.

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