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At home with Donna Hay

Summer is a time for fresh berries, juicy mangoes and tasty vegetables and, for this best-selling cookbook author, it’s 
also an excuse to indulge in her secret passion – ice-cream, MiNDFOOD reports.

At home with Donna Hay

Donna Hay has been cooking since she was a little girl. Her love of food led her to a career as a food writer at 19, and then on to become food editor at marie claire at 25. She is now one of Australia’s leading food editors, a best-selling cookbook author, homeware designer and owner of a new general store in Woollahra, Sydney.

Hay’s trademark style showcases simple dishes photographed close-up on white plates. Her food, recipes and styling focus on basic ingredients, simply prepared and beautifully photographed. Hay lives in Sydney with her husband, Bill, and children, Angus and Tom. Her latest book, Seasons, is designed with her usual flair for food styling and builds on the trend for cooking delicious food using the best of the season’s ingredients.

MiNDFOOD: What are your favourite seasonal ingredients for summer?

I love the tart sweet tang of raspberries – if I’m not careful they never make it past the punnet and into the dessert I’m planning. Juicy mangoes are another favourite, while I can’t go past corn and tomatoes when it comes to the season’s veggie offerings.

What’s your favourite season?

I’m a beach girl through and through, so 
I have to say summer. Everything seems to have a more intense flavour in summer, too.

Which local ingredients do you especially 
like to use in your cooking?

I love the fact that we have access to all sorts of Asian greens and herbs, not just at the local Chinatown and farmers’ markets, but also in most supermarkets as well. They’re perfect quickly stir-fried, steamed or tossed through a salad. I always have some in my crisper.

How do you celebrate summer with your family? Do you have a favourite picnic spot?

Nothing beats long and lazy afternoons at Nielsen Park, a little harbour beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. I like to take my little boys down for a swim and fish and chips (and usually an ice-cream). And on the drive home up the hill from the park, you get one of the best views of Sydney; it always reminds me why I love living here.

Which dishes from your kitchen do you think your children will remember most fondly?

I think the dishes they had a hand in making, whether it’s our little sushi rolls (my three-year old is mad for sushi) or pizza on the barbecue when they can choose their own toppings. They love baking and decorating their own cupcakes, too.

What is your fail-safe simple dish that never lets you down?

I’ve always been of the view that if you’ve got eggs in the fridge, you’ve got a meal. And pantry ingredients, such as tinned chickpeas and lentils, are a lifesaver. My current favourite stand-by dish is a salad of shaved fennel, tinned lentils, fresh herbs such as parsley or mint, lemon zest and juice and a little olive oil.

You frequently visit New Zealand. What 
do you love most about the food here?

I love the number of artisan producers 
New Zealand has and your support of them. I also like the innovation of the chefs and the freshness of the produce.

Is there something or somewhere you always have to eat when you’re in New Zealand?

Whenever I’m visiting family, I always insist on whitebait fritters. The seafood is gorgeous, especially mussels. And I think nothing beats New Zealand ice-cream; 
it’s really something else.

You have the books, the magazine, the homewares, the shop – any plans for 
a restaurant?

No, I much prefer being on the other side of things – producing magazines and books for home cooks. I take my hat off to chefs and restaurateurs though, and their hard work and long hours.

What are you enjoying most about running your new Sydney store?

I love playing shop, just like I did as a little girl! I love the merchandising and styling too – especially styling the windows.

What is a typical day like for you?

No day is the same in my world and that’s why I love what I do so much. Whether it’s coming up with tabletop solutions with our stylist, testing a new recipe in the kitchen with the team or drawing up designs for a new homewares range, I never get bored.

Your new homewares are sourced from around the world. What’s your favourite place to travel to? And which country’s food do you really enjoy to eat?

I love France and any opportunity I get to practise my high school French. I draw inspiration from trips overseas and Paris is certainly not short of it, whether it’s a vast rainbow of macaroons in a patisserie window or a gorgeous fashion display in the Printemps department store. I love simple French bistro food. On my last trip I was lucky enough to try a starter of foie gras melted into custard, topped with vinegar and a burnt sugar crust – a foie gras crème brulee!

What’s your top tip for impressing dinner guests? And do you have any easy food styling, table setting or entertaining tips?

I think the key is to cook one or two courses really well and not over-extend yourself. Rows of pretty tea lights in votives make any table look fabulous and I always keep those little Italian juice bottles for individual vases for each place setting.

If you could have anyone in the world 
cook for you, who would it be?

Peter Gordon – I love his flavours, 
creativity and innovative spirit.

How do you relax?

You won’t believe me, but I love to cook to relax. I find chopping, mixing and stirring incredibly relaxing – cooking helps me switch off after a long day.

What are you most proud of?

My team and the magazine they produce so well. On a personal level, I’m super- proud of my boys, Angus and Tom.

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