“I’m actually a bit of a nerd!” jokes Donna Hay when I ask how her love of all things food was born. “So I relished the science part of baking – the balance of passion, temperatures and times to ensure the best results.”
The former food editor of Marie Claire is now one of the most respected figures in her field (2007 saw her bestowed the title as one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ international cookbook authors) and heads a culinary global empire. Donna’s award-winning recipe books have sold in the millions, her eponymous international glossy magazine, now with its own app, is one of the most-read of its kind, she has a TV series and is a regular columnist for publications here, the UK and her native Australia where she has also found fame as a MasterChef judge. I ask Donna if the show is something that she would have considered entering earlier in her career.
“I’d never have had the courage to take part, it’s taken me most of my working life to even make a series of my own!” she says. “But I admire those that do put themselves out there. I also think that shows like MasterChef have been instrumental in getting people back into the kitchen, which is a great thing.”
The popularity of such shows has risen dramatically in recent years, and continues to do so, why do you think that is?
“Food is no longer just a small part of our lives it’s the centre of everything that we do – the starting point for family dinners, social functions and conversation. Some of life’s best moments and memories come from an occasion that starts with food.”
While on the subject of social occasions, you’re hosting a dream dinner party, who, dead or alive, would be on the guest list?
“Well, I’d hope they’d be alive for the party! It would have to be Coco Chanel, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow and Liz Hurley.”
Liz Hurley, having once tweeted that Donna Hay is her favourite cookery writer, would no doubt be thrilled at the prospect. It is Donna’s simplistic approach to cooking that has made her such a force, her books, she says, are about “getting all the flavour, without the fuss. To show people how easy it is to make a decent meal.” She’s a fan of Jamie Oliver – who in return has hailed her as “his inspiration” – his passion for both the food and the experience of making it. “It’s hard not to admire someone who sets themselves huge challenges and inspires others to be similarly minded,” says Donna.
Her favourite food is ice-cream in all its various forms and she tells me that “if you have an egg in your pantry, you have a meal at the table”, though tinned beans, chickpeas and tomatoes, dried pasta, olive oil, lemons and fresh herbs are the bare essentials that should always grace our kitchen cupboards. She loves the Asian cooking technique, with their bold flavours and fresh produce, something that suits her “fast, fresh and simple approach”. Huge pressure must come with continually having to think up new ideas, I ask Donna from where she draws inspiration.
“It doesn’t feel like pressure when it’s something you love,” she says. “Plus, I love finding a new way to approach a favourite recipe or adding a shortcut. As for inspiration, I tend to find it in little details, whether a shop window display, a fabric pattern, texture or typography. The list goes on.”
Donna has developed a kitchen range with Royal Doulton, which she says is an extension of her approach to food styling. The original concept was born in the prop room of her studio and she then worked with the company’s design and development teams to take the ideas into production.
“The pieces of the collection were inspired from my vintage finds and whimsical elements I know people love to have at home,” says Donna. “All centred around the kind of food occasions and everyday meals that we all enjoy.”
An online gift registry is about to be added to her website which will cater for everything from weddings to birthday parties, as well as a new blog which will update her fans about “exciting adventures with food, lifestyle and special finds.” Donna Hay is one busy lady. She has two young sons, Tom and Angus, and I ask if they help out around the kitchen to lessen the workload.
“They love cooking,” beams Donna – their recent obsession with having a starter before their main course has also aided her in her quest to sneak more vegetables into their diet. “They also love it when I make pizza from scratch to cook on the barbecue and when we go out, they love to go on sushi dates with mum.”