Jamie Oliver Vs Nigella Lawson: Everything You Need To Know About Their Cooking Styles

Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson are household names in the food industry and their careers and cooking styles are often compared as they entered the limelight at around the same time. The two share many similarities that make the comparison viable — starting with their genuine passion for food — in addition to tons of natural charm that simply oozes both in their books and TV shows. Oliver and Lawson are witty and likable, sharing a laid-back approach and the belief that tasty things don't need to be complicated and tiresome.

However, many things set the two apart. Oliver was introduced to cooking at his family-owned pub. He completed formal training and did a stint in busy London kitchens before turning to TV and cookbook writing, eventually building a business empire with more than 20 books, various TV shows, and restaurant chains. On the other hand, Lawson has an Oxford degree and comes from an affluent family. She built a career in journalism before releasing her first cookbook. Lawson was not formally trained and has no experience in professional kitchens. Her cooking was primarily influenced by family, something that translates into her recipes and overall philosophy about food and cooking. Despite many similarities, Oliver and Lawson are very different in terms of their cooking style, and their stances on food, nutrition, and business.

Oliver has always heralded effortless approach to cooking

Jamie Oliver's career skyrocketed with "Naked Chef," which started airing on BBC Two in 1999. The show followed Oliver while he drove around London, collecting ingredients he would later cook at home. The show had an unpretentious note, starting with Oliver, who looked, spoke, and behaved in a relaxed, friendly manner. He had a boy-next-door vibe, which was a refreshing change on broadcast television. This tone was mirrored in the cheeky title — the naked moniker was supposed to describe the barren, simple way of cooking — and as it turns out, this will become a dominant feature of his cooking style throughout his career.

In "Naked Chef," Oliver heralded the idea that home cooking should not be about precise measures and intricate plating. He used approximate splashes, chugs, and handfuls as measurements and taught us that home cooking should be about fun and enjoyment. The "Naked Chef" legacy continued with a follow-up cookbook, and Oliver later applied the same style to a series of cookbooks and shows. "Jamie's 30-Minute Meals" was published in 2010 and was an immediate hit, later becoming a TV series. In them, Oliver whipped up several course meals in under 30 minutes, again presenting cooking as something that should not be tedious. In 2012, he upgraded the idea and shortened the timeframe with "Jamie's 15-Minute Meals," featuring fun, everyday recipes, and rounded it up with "5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food." All of his cookbooks became bestsellers, making it clear that Oliver's effortless approach to cooking was something that audiences loved. 

Lawson normalized imperfections in cooking

Nigella Lawson's first appearance on TV was in "Nigella Bites," a cooking show that started airing in 2000. By then, Lawson was already a familiar name in the industry, well known for her bestsellers "How To Eat" and "How To Be A Domestic Goddess," but it was the TV show that shot her to stardom. In "Nigella Bites," Lawson showcased a different style of cooking. She was not there to imitate professional chefs, and she wasn't obsessed with technicalities or teaching you proper knife skills. In the first episode, she separates the yolks by using the palms of her hands to strain the whites. At the time, and perhaps even today, this style is not something you'll commonly see on broadcast television. It seemed as if Lawson was giving permission to everyone that you don't always need the complicated techniques to whip up delicious meals at home.

Lawson always emphasized that she had no formal training, and her cooking on TV seemed almost frivolous. Lawson dipped fingers in creams and licked them. She splattered batter and milk across the counter and dropped things on the floor, but most importantly, she let us know that all these things were perfectly acceptable. Lawson's imperfection in the kitchen was a large part of her charm, and despite all these adorable blunders and lack of formal training, she was able to effortlessly assemble finger-licking dishes that would make anyone happy. Many home cooks took this approach as an encouragement to do the same.

Oliver emphasizes the use of fresh ingredients, organic food, and better eating habits

From the beginning of his career, Jamie Oliver has promoted the use of fresh ingredients. In "Naked Chef," meat and seafood were always bought and prepared fresh. Veggies were a staple, and every savory dish was brimming with fresh herbs. Despite being prepared from scratch, dishes were still dead easy to make. Later, Oliver became even more vocal about the use of wholesome ingredients and has worked heavily to promote healthy eating choices, especially among children.

In 2005, Channel 4 aired the first episodes of "Jamie's School Dinners," a documentary that tackled the problem of low-quality food served in school canteens across the U.K. The series showed the grim reality of school lunches and poor dietary choices among kids. Oliver not only wanted to change children's preferences but also to influence the government and schools to make fundamental changes in the selection and preparation of school lunches. The campaign went further than the TV shows, successfully persuading the government to allocate more funds to school dinners. It also led to the creation of uniform nutrition standards and the implementation of food education in schools.

In 2015, Oliver published "Everyday Super Food," a cookbook featuring recipes that focused more on nutrition, meant to change our way of thinking about food and help us eat better. He also fully endorsed the concept of organic food as a better and overall superior option.

Lawson is all about decadence

Indulgence is the best way to describe Nigella Lawson's cooking style; she has one goal, which is to keep you fed and happy. In Lawson's world, food is always pleasurable and eating should be celebrated. Her dishes are hearty, luscious, and massive in flavor, and her cooking always has an attractively mischievous character and a touch of true old-school decadence. Lawson leaves no room for guilt and shaming when it comes to eating, as this completely opposes her life philosophy. Classifying food as good or bad takes out all the pleasure from cooking and eating, and Lawson has never really agreed with this approach. Instead, she builds a narrative that life — food being a huge part of it — is designed for enjoyment.

Lawson rarely uses processed foods and mostly opts for fresh and wholesome ingredients. Yet, she never uses her platform to promote a particular lifestyle or stigmatize certain foods and ingredients because they are frowned upon by nutritionists and health experts. The only rule for Lawson is whether the food tastes good or not.

This is best evident in her recipes. She douses brownies in hot chocolate sauce, makes intensely cheesy fondue with splashes of white wine and cherry brandy, and uses hefty amounts of butter in her take on Irish colcannon. Even names such as Spiced and Superjuicy Turkey will make your mouth water, earning Lawson the title of the most indulgent TV personality.

Italian cuisine has always been Oliver's forte

Jamie Oliver is a true British chef whose family were pub owners, meaning he spent a good part of his childhood in the kitchen. Eager to learn more and expand his cooking skills, he ventured to London and enrolled in a catering college, and it was at this time that the infatuation with Italian cuisine started. Not impressed by the time-honored French practices mostly taught at school, he turned to Italian tradition. He appreciated the simplicity and the emphasis on the quality of produce.

After completing catering college, he went to Gennaro Contaldo, an experienced Italian chef working under Antonio Carluccio at his Italian restaurant on Neal Street. Oliver took the only available position and started working as a pastry chef. Contaldo and Oliver hit it off immediately and formed a friendship that turned into a valuable mentorship and lifelong partnership. Oliver then moved to the River Café, the legendary Italian restaurant where he continued his quest to expand his skills in Italian cooking. At the River Café, Oliver was spotted by producers, and he eventually went on to build his business empire.

Italian-inspired recipes continually found a place in Oliver's work, but the strong influence is best seen in "Jamie's Italy" and "Jamie Cooks Italy," two cookbooks featuring classic and contemporary Italian dishes. Another nod to Italian tradition came with Jamie's Italian, a restaurant chain that now operates internationally. 

Lawson often finds inspiration in international cuisines

Nigella Lawson's career shows a colorful kaleidoscope of influences and interests. Most of her recipes are home cooking classics, and she often finds inspiration in traditional British cuisine with dishes such as steak pie, bubble and squeak, and sticky toffee pudding.

Though Lawson shares a deep appreciation for local dishes and traditional British flavors, she loves experimenting with international influences. Like Jamie Oliver, Italian cuisine was the one that ignited her passion for food, and she always makes room for Italian dishes in her repertoire, pasta being the obvious favorite. Asian-inspired creations are also a constant. You'll find dishes such as fish curries, wraps, Japanese prawns, or Korean calamari. Spanish dishes such as paella or ingredients such as chorizo are also familiar sights. Lawson is a big fan of American comfort food, particularly highlighting quintessentially American burgers and fried chicken as her favorite bites.

Lawson also likes to give a unique twist to British dishes. You can see her making Sunday roast with cold beef and grilled eggplant, turning Yorkshire pudding into a dessert, or combining Indian spices with classic shepherd's pie. This playful approach creates fun, eclectic, and utterly unique dishes.

Sweets and bakes appear more commonly in Lawson's repertoire

Jamie Oliver is no stranger to baking. We've seen him whip up tarts, tortes, puddings, and sweet buns. He even showed us how to make the notoriously finicky Christmas pudding, and who can forget that elegant chocolate tart he made in the "Naked Chef" series? Besides a few recipes, most of Oliver's desserts follow the same principle as his savory dishes: they are easy to assemble and incorporate only a handful of ingredients. Yet, he never truly found his place in the realm of sweets, desserts, and bakes. 

On the other hand, when you think of Nigella Lawson, you probably first associate her with a lavish cake with heaps of buttercream. Desserts were one of the foundations that help built Lawson's career, and her second bestseller, "How To Be A Domestic Goddess," was entirely devoted to desserts, compiling a massive selection of recipes that covered cakes, pies, and puddings, with a whole chapter being dedicated to chocolate. Lawson's desserts are just as you'd imagine them. They are utterly hedonistic and don't skim on sugar and cream. Lawson finds her ground in desserts and various sweet bakes, and she is a good source when you want to make something uncomplicated and indulgently sweet but without unnecessary fuss.

Both chefs have always been oriented towards home cooking, but Lawson never went into the restaurant business

Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver had relatively comparable careers, with numerous published cookbooks and TV appearances. While Lawson started as a journalist without formal training, Oliver is a professionally trained chef who polished his knowledge at classy Italian restaurants. However, this difference was not so evident throughout their career. Despite his training and restaurant experience, Oliver never gave off the impression of a classically trained chef. His celebrity chef persona entirely relied on teaching people how to cook hearty home-cooked meals (sans the pretentiousness), but with a few neat tricks and shortcuts that made the whole process much easier. Similarly, Lawson's cooking was entirely built on the idea of cooking homey, comforting meals without even attempting to give the impression that she is in some way superior to any other home cook.

As well as their different backgrounds, Lawson and Oliver differ in their professional endeavors. While Lawson never entered the restaurant business, Oliver has several restaurant chains under the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group. The biggest name in the portfolio was Jamie's Italian, but in 2019, he had to shut down 22 locations in the U.K., together with the celebrated Fifteen and Barbacoa. Despite the fiasco, Oliver did not give up. International outposts of Jamie's Italian are still running, and in 2023, the chef opened a new London-based restaurant in Covent Garden with a promise that he'll do it better the second time around.

Lawson's cooking and recipes always come with a personal note

Nigella Lawson started her career as a writer following the loss of her mother and younger sister. The cookbook "How To Eat" was somewhat of an homage to the two prominent figures with whom she shared an immense love for food. This first cookbook collected recipes from various stages of her life, but it also presented Lawson at the current time. She was a mother of two young children, so along with some classic recipes, you'll find a chapter dedicated to food for kids and even thoughts on the weaning process. This personal approach became Lawson's defining characteristic as a cookbook writer and a TV personality. Every cookbook that came after reflected Lawson and her life at that moment, allowing her to use recipes to illustrate different stages in her life.

The introduction to her recipes always starts on a personal note, usually reflecting on the creation of the dish and the experience of working with a particular ingredient, but also some bizarre and amusing personal story. Whether it is done on TV or in writing, this opening immediately reveals that she is personally invested in every recipe, creating an almost intimate relationship with food and the audience. Even the writing style of the recipe has a colloquial quality, making you feel as if you're reading casual notes jotted by someone close to you.

Both chefs had a series of questionable recipes throughout their careers

When you have two chefs with a long-lasting and impressive career, such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, controversies are not unusual. They were both involved in personal and business drama but faced the most thorough critique with some truly questionable recipes.

The winner for Lawson was probably her banana skin curry. Many thought the skin was unnecessary and looked rather unappetizing, but Lawson stood her ground and defended the flavor and texture. Oliver was slammed for his paella recipe, in which he enriched this Valencian staple with spicy chorizo sausage. Spaniards were infuriated and took the mistake personally, swarming Oliver's post with angry comments.

One dish proved to be particularly challenging for both Oliver and Lawson. Italian carbonara is a fundamental Roman dish traditionally made with spaghetti tossed in a creamy sauce assembled with egg yolks and freshly grated parmesan. This is a pretty straightforward recipe, but non-Italians often skip the yolks and use cream to deliver this velvety mouthfeel, which Italians believe is sacrilege. Lawson committed the same mistake, and Italians did not let this one slide, showering her Facebook post with a pile of comments. Oliver's version did not seem so problematic, but his recipe included garlic, which is not something an authentic carbonara would incorporate. In his defense, many praised the technique and the selection of other ingredients, rating it as a pretty decent take on a traditional recipe.

Both chefs agree on the philosophy that food should bring people together

Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver share an infectious passion for food, and both agree that a successful meal brings people together. For Oliver, cooking and eating have always been joyful, communal affairs. Throughout his career, he mostly cooked for his friends and family, starting by hosting fun dinner parties for his mates and his girlfriend in the "Naked Chef" series, creating lightweight dishes that matched the fun, relaxed atmosphere. Following the grim pandemic year, he became even more aware that sharing a meal is the perfect way to spend more time with loved ones. In 2021, he released "Together," a cookbook packed with festive and celebratory meals that were simple and cleverly crafted so they would allow you to spend more time socializing.

Lawson's approach was similar. She invited viewers into her kitchen and her home, giving us a chance to participate in the cooking process that typically ends with friends or family gathering around the table. She firmly believes that it's in human nature to welcome people to your home and offer them food and that you don't have to always make a spectacle of the occasion. For Lawson, even the simplest of meals can have a profound effect on our relationships. In a world where time is such a precious commodity, reserving time for cooking and eating a meal with loved ones is one of the greatest assets we should hold on to.