I struggle with this question almost daily. Few decisions are so complicated, so regular, and so trying. Every night, upon driving home from work and making a quick run to the grocery store – or, if I’m lucky, in planning in the morning before I leave for work. It is in the forefront of my mind throughout the day.
Nigella? Or Jamie?
The only sensible thing to do is break this up into some heavy-duty analysis.
Charm & Personality
Both of them possess it in spaids. Frankly, populist cook that I am, it’s the thing that makes me their disciples over other chefs, who may create food just as impressive, but lack the razzle dazzle of their rock star appeal.
Jamie is silly. That’s what I admire most about him. There are moments in every show, recipe, and book, where among the hard-line campaigning for better food, or near-military like speeds of cheffy show-offiness, he will surprise you with a glimmer of childish joy. He’ll break into song, he’ll cook drunk (as in Jamie’s America), he’ll bring in his mum or mentor for a quick back and forth (as in Jamie at Home) – each of the encounters are simultaneously hilarious and genuinely intimate. He’s so open, so manic, that his passion is never false – with Jamie, you know you’re getting the real deal.
Nigella is equally silly, but in a completely different way. Never a trained chef but with a suite of qualifications in English literature, Nigella takes to cooking with an Oscar Wildean type of commentary. Consistently tongue-in-cheek and occasionally bordering on soft-core porn, watching Nigella is to watch a madly glamorous, half-drunk, semi-frisky woman lose her shit over her own cooking. She boldly goes where few chefs tread. Insisting that the dietary world is far more complicated than ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food, she’s just as likely to make a nutritious salad as she is to make a chocolate cake that could kill you at twenty paces. With Nigella, it’s all a beautiful, wonderful show.
There’s no clear winner here. Both are endlessly enthusiastic about food, gloriously easy to watch. Their shows are instant comfort watching for me, and are made with a kind of technical precision that is so often amiss in lifestyle programming. Jamie at Home, for example, is flat-out beautiful in its design, sound, lighting, set and feel. It is endlessly enjoyable viewing. The same is to be said of Nigellissima, whose luxurious camera shots, sweet sound scape and relaxed pace make for a instantly calming program. I will go to both shows regularly, but most often around Christmas or Winter, or as a cure for insomnia. One memorable Christmas Eve was spent with a good friend, quite drunk, watching Nigella Christmas Specials for about three or four hours into the wee hours of the morning. I promise you, it’s one of my favourite Christmas memories.
The Food – Cooking for self
Speed is so often the name of the game, and both do this well. Although, as so many are quick to point out, Jamie’s 15 and 30 minute meals are sometimes a timing Russian Roulette. They may come close to actually being deliverable in the promised time, but can often take double the trouble. And when it’s home cooking, I’ve found myself going back to Nigella Express or Nigella Kitchen with increased regularity.
The problem is that Nigella is nowhere near as consistent as Jamie. Jamie, while requiring a little extra effort (and quite often a few extra ingredients) is very rarely anything less than incredibly tasty. Nigella, while equally capable of creating meals that quickly become staples, can also create concoctions that are bewildering. Nigella loves how food looks just as much as how it tastes. So her ‘red salad’ for example, which combines cherry tomatoes, kidney beans and red onions, looks spectacular, but is unsatisfying on the palette.
But it’s hard to argue with a four ingredient recipe like Nigella’s chorizo and scallop dish, or her streaks of ingenious speedy sides like pan-fried gnocchi. When it’s just you (and maybe another) on a weekday, these take little more than a commercial break to quickly whip up and deliver – and without breaking the bank as well.
The Food – Cooking for others
When it comes to a main meal shared amoungst friends, I’ve found few recipes that can beat any of Jamie’s 15 or 30 minute meals. Nigella does group feasts with zeal, but her priority on aesthetic (squid-ink pasta, for example) often over-rules actual taste. And the extra few ingredients and care that Jamie requires pays off. Jamie does family and group food better than most in his latest publications, and they’ve served handfuls of friends over the last couple of years. It’s also worth mentioning that his meals are often infinitely better for you than Nigella’s, and you can tuck into something delicious absolutely guilt-free.
Dessert, meanwhile, is another matter. Jamie’s are staggeringly delicious treaties that are delicate and satisfying, but for a real knock-down butter-filled, cream-lathered, chocolate-coated, proper dessert, you can’t go past Nigella, who holds nothing back.
You see my problem. Any help appreciated. Going to recipe books for these two is often a twenty-minute sit-down cup-of-tea process of decision making. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the more enjoyable parts of my day, but my time could be spent putting energy into more productive matters.
But then, perhaps not. What both Jamie and Nigella stand for is a love of food, and both are exceptionally good at calling attention to it, and demanding that we place greater care in what we eat. Not necessarily out of an interest in our health, but out of an interest of making our lives richer, deeper, and more pleasurable. For that, they should be thanked for guiding me out of the sausage-on-a-plate dinners of my undergraduate years, and helping me grow up.