The goddess of domesticity had local fans swooning at a book signing for her latest, At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking, at the Gourmet Warehouse recently.
The book is full of recipes that don’t require much in the way of technique or culinary expertise, dishes like salt-and-vinegar potatoes, lime and cilantro chicken, and apple pork chops. After all, part of Lawson's appeal is that she calls herself a cook, not a chef, making her recipes approachable for us common folk.
After a tour of the food shop (which carries her cookbook) with chef-owner Caren McSherry, Lawson, in a one-piece flared denim pant suit, sat at a table to autograph books and pose for photos with hundreds of beaming people, mostly women. McSherry also held a brief Q&A with the queen of unapologetically imperfect cooking during the April 26 event. Lawson, a mother of two grown children, mentioned that she had already spoken to her butcher and ordered lamb chops to pick up once she returned to England, since she wanted something she could cook and eat within about 20 minutes of arriving home. (The recipe for spicy mint lamb chops with a preserved lemon and mint sauce is in the book.)
The next day, the Straight caught up with Lawson by phone from her downtown Vancouver hotel. Here are highlights of what she had to say, in that posh, buttery accent...
On Vancouver: “I’ve been here before, but I’ve never seen it quite this sunny and splendid. I love it. I find it very exciting and at the same time, it’s got a calmness. I love how you can be out and about and then these beautiful mountains pop into view; it’s quite extraordinary.”
On Middle Eastern spices: “I’ve always used them quite a bit, even as far back as my first book. They’re much more mainstream now. You can find them easier and play with them. They have such a wonderful intensity of flavour.”
On doing away with perfection in the kitchen, especially if you’re entertaining: “It’s easy to whip oneself up into this state of anxiety with the act of cooking. If it’s simple, that’s how you stop yourself from being in that state. Do something that just needs a little bit of stirring or can be put it in the oven. Then you’ll think ‘Why was I even thinking like that?’”
On how working parents can get dinner on the table at a decent hour on weeknights: “I do think leaving things till the last minute on the shopping front makes life hard. I remember when my children were young, the shopping is harder when you’re working than the cooking. The cooking doesn’t have to take very long, but if you haven’t done the shopping, it can be difficult. I don’t think parents should berate themselves from repeating. We all do that. I know there are certain dishes that I cook quite a lot.”
Her kitchen staples: Chickpeas, preserved lemons, dried apricots, frozen peas, leeks, and Greek yogurt. “Greek yogurt lasts a long time and you can always whip something up with that. Turkish eggs [recipe is in the book] can be done at any time. There are certain things that I know I have to have all the time so that if push comes to shove, I can make something fast. I'm used to having a big table full of young people to cook for, often without any warning."
Food term she disdains: Fine-dining.
Food trends she likes: Fermented foods. “I keep planning to do a lot of fermenting myself, but I don’t do an awful lot; I do a lot of quick pickling rather than fermenting.”
On social media: “Some people on Instagram make nice, cozy, home food, and they often get castigated for that because it doesn’t look picture-perfect. I don’t like that, but on the whole, I think of Instagram as the village square. I like the contact you have with people. And I’m a nosy person. I’m not interested in lifestyle—people with their blond hair flapping in wind; I don’t care where their clothes came from—but I do like people who eat and who cook.”
Favourite cookbooks: Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking by Bonnie Morales, chef and co-owner of Portland’s iconic Russian restaurant of the same name (“fascinating and charmingly written”). Anything and everything by Britain’s Claudia Roden. Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. The forthcoming How to Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories, and Places by Diana Henry and Ottolenghi Simple by Jerusalem chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
On book tours: “The worst part is I often miss meals. The best part is meeting readers. In between it all, you can have very nice discussions with people. It’s a real sense of proper connection, because it’s through food. It’s a really lucky way to get a quick taste of a city. But then you’re on to the next place. Sometimes I think, ‘Can I just have a few days off to roam about the place and eat?’”