Cooking up a storm but not quite Nigella

Erin Flick

On an unexceptional day in the early 1990s, a 14 year-old-high schoolgirl named Lorraine had a sandwich she liked so much she dare not tell her father, a deeply patriotic Hong Kong-born biochemist who insisted his wife cook only Cantonese dishes.

It was a caviar sandwich offered by her Russian school friend. Lorraine says it was simple in its construction: freshly buttered bread topped with pearls of caviar “which popped on my tongue and released their rich, salty gel”.

Lorraine Elliott has developed a unique voice that manifests itself through her popular daily online food blog Not Quite Nigella. Busy dividing her time between logging her daily food adventures, travelling and promoting her new book of the same name, she gives a broad friendly smile when we first meet and it feels like Lorraine is welcoming you into her world. And in a way she is.

That’s the thing about daily blogs like Not Quite Nigella, you feel like you are right there with them.

The eldest daughter of immigrant parents, Lorraine jokes that she was never the ideal Chinese child her parents wanted. She wanted to be called Jane and dreamed about having jam or devon sandwiches included in her school lunchbox.

Lorraine craved different flavours to the daily offerings at home and as soon as they were old enough, she and her younger sister used their pocket money to buy foods different to those at home. “This started not so spectacularly with frozen lasagnes and supermarket crème caramels. I’m glad to say the only way was up after that,” Lorraine says.

Lorraine Elliott: shares her jam or devon or caviar sandwich on her blog

Lorraine Elliott: shares her jam or devon or caviar sandwich on her blog

After university, Lorraine travelled and worked in Japan for two years teaching English, a choice that saw her gain a little of the freedom she had longed for as a child. While her time in Japan fuelled her passion for cooking and food, when she returned home, she realised she had to get a real job. And so she did – in advertising and marketing.

Lorraine admits that giving up a six-figure salary to pursue full time blogging was a little daunting at first; she cringes now when the monthly credit card bill arrives in the mail. However, this is forgotten “with a piece of the fluffiest cheesecake or a square of the most sublimely melt-in-the-mouth chocolate or I talk to someone inspiring who works in the food industry,” she says.

There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of Lorraine Elliott. “One day I could be developing a recipe or I could be interviewing a chef or visiting a restaurant or travelling. Or I could spend the whole day in front of my computer writing and editing photos in my pyjamas. And I’m happy doing any of those things,” she says.

Bacon jam is Lorraine’s favourite original recipe. Why, you may well ask. “A perverse part of me likes proving people wrong and some people thought that it sounded awful but once they tried it, they ate their words. If you like bacon and maple syrup with pancakes then you’ll like bacon jam,” she says.

Perhaps one reason her blog appeals to over 250,000 unique visitors each month that she is so real. And at times incredibly funny.

In a recent blog post, Lorraine revealed to her readers that, to her surprise, she realised she makes sex noises when she exercises. “Yes, I make sex noises when I exercise. I’m a sex noise-exercising addict. I am Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams all in one.” she said.

Lorraine decided to embark on an exercise regime after having an epiphany during a lunch with other food writers. They were “popping cholesterol pills and talking about the perils of their job. Chins wobbled, cherubic faces shook with sympathy and I realised that if I didn’t already look like that, I would perhaps soon,” she says.

Not Quite Nigella inspires, entertains and delights readers who can’t seem to get enough of Lorraine. With just under 12,000 Twitter followers and with the launch of her debut book, a memoir detailing her life prior to blogging, not surprisingly Lorraine is in demand.

Lorraine has travelled all over the world, stayed in some of the most amazing hotels and sampled some of the most delicious and unique food the world has to offer.

The most unusual food I have ever eaten was probably a pickled huhu grub at the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival in New Zealand. Surprisingly, it was quite inoffensive and sweet but like odd foods, the idea is often worse than the actual eating.”

But about those caviar sandwiches way back when? “Forget drug abuse, I’m now more likely to be caught thieving a giant tub of caviar to support my habit,” she says.

Stephanie Alexander (Kitchen Gardens Program), Lorraine Elliott (Not Quite Nigella) and Pauline Nguyen (Red Lantern restaurant) speak with food journalist John Newton about how our relationship with food reflects our culture and who we are. Event 53, ‘What Our Food Says About Us’, Thursday, May 23, 2.30-3.30pm, Sydney Dance 1

Lorraine Elliott, Mark Forsyth, Tara Moss and Angela Moss discuss the pros and cons of blogging, and the differences between writing on and offline at ‘Writers Who Blog’, Event 82, May 24, 10-11am, Philharmonia Studio. Free