fri 26/02/2021

Simply Nigella, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Simply Nigella, BBC Two

Simply Nigella, BBC Two

The food is fresh, the concept stale

Occasionally, Nigella’s articulacy punctures the fragrant simpering

TV chefs are like the characters in a favourite band, each one with their newsworthy quirk. There’s the matey one, the posh one, the sweary one, the mumsy one, and the light-fingered one. Then there’s Nigella, the kittenish one, best known for licking her fingers with a lingering thoroughness rarely seen on family television. (She was once the Oxford graduate best known as deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times.

TV chefs are like the characters in a favourite band, each one with their newsworthy quirk. There’s the matey one, the posh one, the sweary one, the mumsy one, and the light-fingered one. Then there’s Nigella, the kittenish one, best known for licking her fingers with a lingering thoroughness rarely seen on family television. (She was once the Oxford graduate best known as deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times. Gotta love the patriarchal, objectifying media circus...)   

This series features the sort of quick but wholesome recipes that can be rustled together after a tiring day at the office. (Presumably Nigella has friends who can tell her what those are like.) And in fairness, the recipes look good: simple but flavoursome ingredients, and even simpler techniques involving much use of aforementioned fingers, both in the preparation and eating. The lamb ribs with cumin used a neglected ingredient in an imaginative way. It was difficult to be sure, given the copious soft-focus on her in-laws enjoying the result, but they looked delicious. These recipes are so simple Nigella runs the risk of not selling the books.  

But recipes alone aren’t enough, these days. There are millions of them, available for free, courtesy of cyberspace, while reality TV, in the guise of Bake-Off and Masterchef, has also encroached into food broadcasting. The food media’s book-and-TV series formula, a gold mine since Delia Smith invented it in the 1980s, has been showing signs of drying up.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have responded by becoming campaigners, for ecological food production and children’s health respectively, which gives their public profile extra interest. A cynic might observe that both have launched campaigns at the same time as Nigella launches this series: just in time for a Christmas marketing push. Nevertheless, both have good causes, sincerely held, and have forced worthwhile changes in their areas of policy.

NigellaNigella, meanwhile, carries on serenely as if it’s still 1995, her only concession to cash-strapped, time-poor millennials coming in these simpler recipes. There’s the fey, dated atmosphere of a Richard Curtis film about her programmes, as if her neighbours in the dappled Georgian squares of Marylebone and Notting Hill, where she strolls about doing her shopping, are winsome Hugh Grant lookalikes, rather than a Singaporean property-holding company and Russian oilmen.

The scenes in which she bought her ingredients were in any case superfluous, the sense of affluent leisure attached to her programmes’ lifestyle hopelessly pre-crash. Which leaves Nigella’s core virtues. While it can be empirically established by anyone with an internet connection that there is simply no limit to the number of shapely busts the world would like to see, the camera spent so long lingering on a head-and-shoulders shot of Nigella, olive-oiled fingers, coquettish smile and bosom, filling half the screen, in pin-sharp focus, that it actually began to feel uncomfortable to watch.

Occasionally, Nigella’s articulacy punctures the fragrant simpering. While her descriptions of the food are sometimes overcooked, some of her language is beautiful. She could be a much more compelling and original prospect. You don’t catch Jamie Oliver calling his marinated onions “a beautiful lambent puce”.

@matthewwrighter

You don’t catch Jamie Oliver calling his marinated onions 'a beautiful lambent puce'

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters