“Food has always been important to me. When I was a child I’d spend holidays with my grandparents. We’d be in the vegetable garden in the morning and in the afternoon we’d pod peas or string the beans together. I am the youngest of three girls, which was great because as the youngest you get to do adventurous things above your age.
I’d like my last meal to be theatrical; it needs to be about much more than the food. I’d want it to be an adventure and a long one; a lunch to ensure that we’d have plenty of time. So I’d start with a flight in a seaplane. I’d pile my two sons and my friends in. The planes dock at Rose Bay in Sydney and fly across the harbour and the city, along the coastline. The flight takes you over sea cliffs and past beaches to a spot called Berowra Waters, nestled in the bush. The restaurant is legendary. It is only accessible by water. It has been the starting ground for nearly every great Sydney chef; they’ve all cooked here. Brian Geraghty is the current chef and owner, with his partner Victoria who runs the floor. He’s young and his menu is exciting with lots of intriguing, delicious, pretty courses, beautifully plated. It is the perfect menu for a long, lingering lunch.
I love the isolation here. The water, a wall of bush in front of you; it’s incredibly peaceful. That said, the fact that it’s so isolated means we could make plenty of noise and be as badly behaved as we liked. I’m quite sure all of my friends would jump off the jetty into the water.
It is hard to believe that the magazine [called Donna Hay] is 10 years old. I never really had a full-time job until we started it. I was freelancing, creating about 30 pages of food a month for Marie Claire, as well as cookbooks. It wasn’t glamorous. I spent years figuring out ways to make food look great, from stopping a pea from wrinkling to fluffing ice cream in an ice cream van for so long that my nose froze. Those little challenges gave me the discipline I needed. I didn’t know, until then, that I could be precise, that I had enough attention to detail to look through 700 ice cream cones to find the perfect one.
When I was in my early twenties I went to Paris for the first time. Every day I’d go out for lunch and in the evening I’d have just a crêpe. I’d watch the crêpe vendors fold them. Some rolled the crêpe, some folded it into a square, others made the crêpe a triangle. I had my epiphany there: I needed to find ways to make familiar ingredients look different on a plate.
I looked elsewhere to find ways to do that. Working with editors with different motivations helped. Jane Roarty, fashion and style editor on Marie Claire in those days, would encourage me to research what was happening in fashion, to be inspired by colours and textures. That was long before food was about fashion. I started using colour: blue – because most food is brown – and white, because I love the freshness of it. Lots of white, lots of light and just great ingredients on a plate with minimal props. It became my style.
Often when I travel people tell me that my books somehow reflect Australia. I think that is the light. Last winter I was promoting my book in Europe and I didn’t see the sun for nine days. I wondered why I was feeling odd. In Australia we never go for nine days without seeing the sun.”
Sydneysider, magazine editor, food stylist and television presenter Donna Hay’s cookbooks have sold more than 4.5 million copies worldwide and have been translated into nine languages. Hay’s knack for creating visually appealing dishes and sumptuous-but-simple recipes has inspired a new generation of chefs and food editors around the world.
Set in bush land by the Hawkesbury River – a tributary of Sydney Harbour – the Berowra Waters Inn was built in the 1920s before being revamped by the Pritzker Prize winning Australian architect Glenn Murcutt in the 1970s. The restaurant can only be accessed by seaplane, boat or the restaurant’s private ferry. The pilgrimage has become a popular one since acclaimed chef and owner Brian Geraghty took over in 2012.
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