Updated 19 December, 19:35, with a further statement from Jason Atherton.
Jason Atherton, chef and patron of 18 restaurants and bars in seven countries — four of which are Michelin-starred — has reacted angrily, apparently, to a three-word Instagram comment written by the celebrated author and TV star Nigella Lawson. In an interview in which Atherton shares “festive tips” with The Times, he claims Lawson is “full of shit.”
Following an unfavourable review in the Sunday Times by Marina O’Loughlin — Atherton’s newest London restaurant, The Betterment, was described as having “no real identity”; the chef “a frosty, overgroomed automaton”; and the food equally “robotic” — Lawson wrote underneath the critic’s personal Instagram post, promoting the review, “Excellent, as ever.”
Lawson did not comment specifically on the subject of the review, but the review itself. “As ever” suggests an admiration for the consistent quality of O’Loughlin’s writing, not necessarily an endorsement of this particular opinion. It certainly isn’t explicit.
Somewhat bizarrely, Atherton’s annoyance with Lawson was sparked by the interviewer Harry Wallop’s turning the conversation towards Brussels sprouts — specifically whether or not it is necessary to score their base before cooking. Against revisionist wisdom, Atherton does.
“It’s just habit,” the chef says. “No other reason than that. It works. So I’ve never really questioned it. It’s what my mum taught me to do.”
Wallop, with raised eyebrows: “I point out that this is a hugely controversial practice and one of the TV chefs in the early 2000s told us it was sacrilege to put a cross in the bottom of sprouts. I’m probably wrong, but maybe it was Jamie, possibly Nigella, I say.”
Wallop was in fact wrong. In a 2014 recipe for sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta, and parsley, Lawson writes:
Trim the bottoms off each of the sprouts, cutting a cross into each as you go, or at least a slash. This may not be necessary, but I can’t not do it.
But it doesn’t matter. Wallop proceeds: “The mention of [Nigella’s] name — for many, the saviour of Christmas with her Coca-Cola ham and brined turkey — is like pouring vinegar into a glass of milk.”
Back to Atherton: “Nigella is full of shit! I was watching her on Saturday on the TV and she does my head in. Some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth — you’ve just read that on the internet. What are you on about?”
He revs up, choosing to believe that Lawson’s perceived antipathy towards his restaurant is related to its Mayfair location. (O’Loughlin has used and referred to the phrase “Mayfair wankpit” but levelled no such specific charge in her review of The Betterment.)
“Hang on a minute! You eat at Scott’s every day for lunch, you were married to one of the wealthiest men in the country, you didn’t f**ing mind wanky Mayfair then,” Atherton says, apparently out of nowhere. “You’re a f**ing public-school girl. You’re only saying that to try and look cool to stay relevant.”
Atherton told Eater that he would make no further comment. Only that “Nigella is great.” Lawson wished not to comment on the remarks.
Atherton later supplied a statement, reported by Bloomberg’s Richard Vines:
Statement just in: “Jason Atherton deeply regrets the comments he said about Nigella Lawson in The Times today. Jason holds Nigella in the highest esteem and has written to her privately to sincerely apologise to her.” @Nigella_Lawson pic.twitter.com/Ij5RSCDYn8— Richard Vines (@Richardvines) December 19, 2019
- Jason Atherton’s twelve tweaks of Christmas (don’t read on, Nigella) [The Times/paywall]