Donna gets back to basics
Cooking queen Donna Hay tells why she’s taking the stress out of Christmas cooking, and confesses her own festive culinary mishaps to Debbie Schipp
ASK Donna Hay why she’s paring down Christmas cooking, and she relives the horror of the glazed ham. The acclaimed cook, food stylist and cookbook author had been levelled, like so many before her, by a Christmas Day combination of trying to do too much, running out of time and two young kids at her feet.
The perfectionist in Hay wanted to present a faultless, even glaze. But she’d forgotten to put the ham in the oven.
Playing catch- up, rather than remove it from the oven to check its progress, she attempted adjustments by balancing said ham, and pan, half on an oven shelf and the oven door.
Cue a slipped shelf, a ham in Hay’s lap, and a glazed ( and no, it wasn’t even) Christmas dress.
And a vow that from then on, it would all be a bit easier. Which is the aim of tonight’s A Donna
Hay Christmas special. Hay shows the shortcuts that work, to ensure cooks don’t end up with egg on their faces, or glaze on their clothes.
It’s the culmination of around three decades of experience since Hay took over responsibilities for Christmas lunch at 13.
It’s also an admission – which the perfectionist in Hay is almost as relieved as she is reluctant to confess – that not everything has to be perfect at Christmas lunch.
“To be really honest, I don’t think I’ve totally nailed it ever – not as far as the decorations I set out to do and the whole timing thing,” Hay says.
“What I have nailed is that that’s actually OK. I’m more relaxed about it than I was before.
“So when I set out to do this special, I wanted to pare it down. I thought if I could just start with the basics and do them well – and that’s really what everyone needs to do – then people could add their own touches.
“I thought if I give everybody the basics – the kind of ‘ must- do’ things, take the mystique out of that – we could all have a stress- free Christmas this year, including me.
“In the past I’ve been such a victim of wanting to do too much and please everyone. Now maybe I’m older and wiser and it’s more about that balance between beautiful food and how precious family are.”
Hay’s own Christmas this year will probably be “only about 14 – a manageable amount for Christmas”.
In the past I’ve been such a victim of wanting to do too much and please everyone. Now maybe I’m older and wiser and it’s more about that balance between beautiful food and how precious family are
She reluctantly admits she’d prefer not to have helpers in the kitchen.
“I’m just … quicker. Is that a good enough excuse?
“I enjoy company while I’m cooking. I prefer people to sit on the other side of the bench and chat and maybe pick some herbs. As far as joining me on the other side of the bench … I’d probably just run people over,” she says.
Hay has loved cooking for as long as she can remember.
“It started because my mum let me cook in the kitchen. I didn’t have to pretend in my cubby house any more. It was the real thing,” she says. “And I always cooked with my grandma.” She may be the author of countless cookbooks and have her own magazine, but no amount of beautifully styled, researched and presented recipes come close to Hay’s greatest treasures – the dog- eared cookbooks which belonged to her Nana and great- grandmother.
“They’re falling apart and I don’t let anyone touch them,” she says.
“They have lot of food stains. The paper in my great grandmother’s is just disintegrating.”
It means she has mixed emotions about her own pristine books.
“As much as I love being a stylist and taking beautiful photos and having people, you know, love my books because they look beautiful, really the cook in me wants people to cook out of them as well,” she says.
“So when people come to me and their books are stained or I go to people’s houses and they look a bit dog- eared, then I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
“If they’re on the coffee table I’m like ‘ yeah, that’s nice ... but …’”