I won national contest to meet my dream chef

Tagen-Heidi-VonBy Heidi von Tagen
Gorgeous Bits Blog


When I first saw the blurb in the New York Times on my computer screen announcing an opportunity to try out one of the recipes from Nigellissima, I pounced.  I wanted to be clever and pithy, and write something titillating and honest because I really wanted them to pick me.  I think I ended up writing something that compared Nigella to a hybrid combination of Mae West and Julia Child.  I mentioned relating to a woman with an appetite, and how I sometimes feel I could bench press most thin and tiny women who seem to dominate television and magazines.  I ended with a wanton comment about how few things in life have made my eyes roll to the back of my head, and how warm, melt-y Gorgonzola cheese pasta is one of them.

Inevitably, I was chosen to be one of the three home cooks to video chat with Julia Moskin and Nigella. 

It’s quite true that I spent most Sunday mornings lounging in bed with a cup of coffee, surrounded by cookbooks and Vogue magazines in my flannel pajamas watching Nigella cook gracefully in her bright white kitchen with the little strand of white Christmas lights in the background.  It was the one morning a week I’d allow myself to luxuriate in the pleasure of hanging out in bed, imagining I could also be glamorous and sexy while whipping eggs, grocery shopping and stealthily eating leftovers right out of the fridge at midnight.  Nigella Lawson is the epitome of womanliness… she’s intelligent, beautiful, funny, loves to cook and is unapologetic about her appetite for life.  She seems to care deeply about her family and friends, and is poetic, graceful and spiritual in her explanations about food and cooking and home.  Who wouldn’t want to be that way?  When she cooed over the caramelized specks left over in the pan after cooking bacon, and breathed the words “gorgeous bits”, I was smitten with her use of language as much as I was with her as a person.  She inspired me to start my blog and to embrace what I love, to put words to the photos I take and to elevate the otherwise average and everyday things in life.   I can get lost in her writing.  My favorite cook book of all time is How to Eat.  It feels like a person is standing next to you, talking to you about food and cooking, rather than just listing ingredients and bullet pointing steps.  Her chapter that she mentioned in the Video Chat on Thursday about “The Solace of Stirring” makes my heart skip a beat.  She speaks and writes about what I believe in.

Cooking is a certain kind of philosophy.

During the technical set up for the Google Hang Out, the other home cooks, Amanda and Preston and I had time to chat. They were both so charming and eloquent, and we all  instantly bonded when we started talking about food. Preston was an awesome combination of intellect, spirituality and art.  He seemed to be a handsome, young, well-educated and travelled Renaissance man.  He had a gorgeous sounding concoction of homemade ginger syrup mixed with libation to calm his nerves, and Amanda cracked me up when she calmly explained her New York kitchen was about the size of a closet.  She demonstrated the point by reaching into the fridge, just out of the computer screen shot, and pulled a beverage out to drink.  I get this whole Hang Out thing now.  It’s quite fun really. The New York Times dining and wine section will be making a series out of it I think, and the next home cooks they choose are in for a treat.

Nigella was as warm and lovely as I imagined her to be.  She made a little comment about how when she lived in Italy she was 19 and it was before all of us were born… I wanted to yell out, “I’m 46 Nigella!”  She looks AMAZING.   My teenage son, being the smart kid his is, has a bit of a crush on her too.  And once I told him she attended Oxford University and majored in Medieval Languages, he decided she is his dream woman.

My only regret other than making up a weird joke about how beer compliments everything, (it sounded clever in my mind, but I was star struck and tongue tied so ended up sounding like a dork I think) was that everyone on the chat was in their kitchen except for me.  I was sitting in my 13 year old daughter Emma’s upstairs bedroom.  Although I moved all of the pink stuffed unicorns off the bed and took down the Justin Bieber posters, I still sat in front of a pink dresser with a missing drawer to talk to people around the world and at the New York Times.  I wished so much I’d figured out how to get the computer cable to reach my own kitchen that is quite nice.  I would have loved to show it off a bit to Julia Moskin, who also seems to have a thing for white subway tiles and enameled cast iron pots and pans.

In the end, what a great format for the New York Times to create, and what a cool opportunity for people who love food and cooking to connect on a real level, in real time.  I learned a lot just from that half hour: about truffle oil, how long to cook risotto, that Nigella is truly authentic and not driven by what would make her more “marketable”, and that lawyers in New York with tiny kitchens and young students in Scotland and moms who are editors of the New York Times sometimes think just a little like me.

Our passion for good, homemade food ties us all together.

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