Nigella Lawson is an ideal representative of today’s celebrity chef. She’s a journalist and food writer who doesn’t even play a chef on TV. We no longer expect our cooking show hosts to be experts. From the producers’ point of view, she fits the requirements: an attractive host with an appealing personality. As viewers we need to be able to relate to a host in some way (e.g. Nigella loves food; I love food), and we need to believe she is worth watching and listening to (e.g. Nigella is a famous person, and that’s authority enough for me). She’s really just combining ingredients here. A student to whom I showed this recently astutely noted that she probably added the peanut butter so it would seem more like actual cooking.
Today’s food shows are entertainment first and practical information further down the line. Nigella’s flirtatious relationship with the camera and emphasis on sensuality fit the bill: Her red shirt frames her décolletage, food is shot in close ups offset by a blurred background, the sweetened condensed milk pours viscously into the pan, the chocolate chips clink together with exaggerated sound. She elongates adjectival descriptions: “Cool, smooth ice cream. Hot, grainy, fudgy sauce.” We’re not just fed eye candy via food and host but also the trappings of Nigella’s home, “casually” visible in most shots. Her tastefully appointed kitchen, book-lined walls, stocked pantry, and her glass “pitcherette” are the epitome of aspirational. What ice cream and peanut butter brands is she using? The labels are coyly turned just enough to avoid blatant product placement, but you can tell which ones to buy. “Crisis, delectably averted” she pronounces, with, it seems, a wink. She knows this is all fun and games and frivolous and that unannounced friends popping around is a first-world problem. She fetches the ice cream, saying – either as a self-description or takeaway tip, which are effectively equivalent – “Always have a good supply.” The final scene with her diverse group of friends feasting on their dessert adds the cherry on top, displaying the cachet of her urbane European lifestyle. Et voilà!