Need an antidote to perfectly lit influencers and lockdown sourdough spam? May we suggest this refreshingly real food ‘grammer.
She’s often in her dressing gown, may or may not be in possession of a bra, and isn’t always one to brush her hair. In a sea of beautifully shot sourdough imagery and restaurant brands churning out “how-to” content that is well-lit and pretty much profesh, Nici Wickes isn’t. And her content is unmissable.
Nici Wickes (@niciwickesfood) has 2,351 followers of Instagram. By comparison Annabel Langbein has nearly 60,000. Nici didn’t win a TV cooking competition, doesn’t have a bakeware range or operate a bagel empire. But until the Bauer Media collapse, she was the much-loved food editor at NZ Woman’s Weekly. I hired her, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Nici cooks with gusto, always grinning from ear to ear from her tiny, ramshackle cottage kitchen south of Auckland.
She’s relentlessly cheerful. She’s never wasteful. She turns decaying grapes into yeast, bakes flourless chocolate cookies for those of us who didn’t panic buy the white gold, and demonstrates how to chop up a whole chicken. She has low moments – “I’ve been weeping today,” she confides – her kitchen table is piled with what looks like newspapers, dried flower arrangements and jigsaw puzzles and, reassuringly, there’s often wet laundry drying in a sunny corner in the background.
Nici is disappointed in her olive harvest, curious about how one might sanitise a leek, and doesn’t like broccoli, we learn, but is forcing herself to eat it because she’s trying to stay well, and apparently we’re in the middle of a health crisis.
I also like to watch Josh Emett videos. Josh (bless his long lean fingers and dazzling smile) makes eggplant parmigiana on marbled bench tops, whipping key ingredients out of integrated cupboards and sleek fridges in his hygienic, gleaming, probably beachfront kitchen.
Nici lives beachfront too, she informs us, wet hair dripping over the ingredients for her Sicilian meatballs. She’s been for a swim. “More of a dip,” she corrects herself before one of her brilliant trademark disclaimers about the recipe.
“If you’re tuning in for the first time you may be disappointed about the amount of luscious food shots you’re getting.” Indeed, Nici clearly has zero in the way of camera skills and, residing alone – “it’s just me and the cat” – there’s nobody to help her in her bubble.
A tin of tomatoes hovers briefly into shot. They’re going in the meatball sauce – they’ve been sitting in the fridge for probably several days too long, have a layer of frost on them and don’t look 100% appetising. “Unfortunately my fridge is one of those ones that is kind of on the blink,” she offers. It’s freezing everything. Speaking of which, if you’re one of those cooks who frequently forgets to take an ingredient out to thaw well before dinner, NICI IS YOUR HOMEGIRL. She’s careless when it comes to the timely defrosting of frozen items, and I love that about her.
On the day our prime minister announced another week before we moved to level three, Nici responded with comfort food – gluten-free sausage rolls (very clever, they’re wrapped in a corn tortilla!). As she begins filming her recipe, the camera topples into the mince. There’s no editing. No beginning again. “You just fell in the mince,” Nici chortles, hoisting the phone out of the bowl. “I promise I won’t let you fall again – you’re really secure where you are now so don’t fret.”
“I think we’re going to get better at this,” she says, hopefully, in another video, in which she explodes into a fit of giggles after almost losing her phone in a batch of peanut butter cookie dough. Sometimes, the lens is suddenly shrouded in steam as Nici lifts the lid on a pan of boiling water. But she’s more than happy to wipe away the moisture with her thumb.
“This is just me, bored, trying to help out …” Nici says as she attempts a risotto using what appears to be about a tablespoon of arborio, which is all she has left in her cupboard. “A few of you have been asking me if I could share, earlier in the day, what we’re going to be cooking tonight. Sorry, but no. That’s probably beyond my capabilities.