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Stirring the emotions

Sensual and eloquent, Nigella Lawson is the star ingredient of her Italian-themed food series.

IT IS an analogy that seems apt for the food industry: what came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, did food-themed TV explode because of society's changing approach to food, or has society changed its approach to food because of food-themed TV?

''It's a good question, and I do wonder what comes first. Was it that people started to get more disposable money and food became a bigger part of people's lives, and that was reflected on the telly?'' the British food TV producer Pete Lawrence says.

''It almost feels like something you can relate back to World War II, to rationing, then to the next generation, into the 1970s and then the boom of the 1980s. I suspect it's as much tied to that as it is to the rise of TV chefs.''

Lawrence is one of Britain's most accomplished food television producers. His credits include The Hairy Bikers' Best of British, The Prison Restaurant, Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers, The Good Cook and, most recently, Italian-themed Nigella Lawson series Nigellissima.

Lawrence says Nigellissima begins with one essential, simple ingredient: British food journalist, broadcaster and amateur cook Nigella Lawson.

''The series, the ethos behind it, it all comes from Nigella,'' Lawrence says. ''Nigella has a close affinity with Italy; she speaks fluent Italian, she worked there as a young adult, she has a lot of close connections with Italy. When we started talking to her about a series, she'd been working on the ideas behind it for a long time.''


The spirit of Italy, he says, is one of confidence, tradition and simplicity. What makes Lawson's technique so captivating is Lawson herself: eloquent, sensual, even flirtatious.

Unlike some programs in which the food precedes the host, here the host is as as important as the food she is preparing.

''When Nigella talks, she has this mesmerising quality that you want to listen to her,'' Lawrence says. ''Nigella is captivating.''

What Nigellissima does deliver, however, is the kind of ''food porn'' that fans of Lawson's programs have come to expect. The food photography is sumptuous, and Lawson's sensual interaction with the ingredients is, in the food TV realm, almost without peer.

Lawrence laughs when the phrase ''food porn'' is brought into the conversation.

''I think it's almost an unfortunate phrase because of the sexual connotation to it, but what is true is there is no point in doing a food show where the food doesn't look great,'' he says.

''You want people to watch the show and feel hungry, and people are not going to feel hungry if you just drop something onto a plate and stick any old light on it. So as soon as you go down that line, you spend a lot of time and money on getting that look absolutely right.''

Nigellissima airs Thursdays on ABC1.