Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: #31, Donna Hay

Donna Hay is a household name in Australia. She's a hugely popular cookbook author (She's authored 14 bestselling cookbooks), has her own glossy Donna Hay Magazine (which I subscribe to) and a weekly cooking column in News Ltd newspapers across the country. As long ago as 2001, The New York Times ran a glowing story on the Australian headed, "Look Out, Martha Stewart: A Rival from Down Under".

She is reportedly a perfectionist at work. Friends and associates speak with awe of her drive and ambition. "I want it all," she says. "What do they say? You're a long time dead." Hay is said to be better at pastry-making than people management. Critics and fans agree that Hay is formidably talented and hard-working but she is tough and she can be difficult for those who work with her.

After graduating from high school, she failed to qualify for a physiotherapy course, so she enrolled in home economics and loved it. The youngest of three sisters, and given free rein in the kitchen and her grandmother's vegetable garden, she also attended cooking classes in school holidays and by the age of 14 had assumed the role of head chef in the family. 

Hay worked in the Women's Weekly test kitchen, then as a freelance food stylist before becoming food editor of the Australian edition of Marie Claire magazine. During this time, she produced four cookbooks. The recipes were short, the layout clean and the food photographed in natural light on white plates against white backgrounds. 

In 2001, she persuaded Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd to finance Donna Hay Magazine in return for running her cooking column in the group's Australian newspapers. Hay, whose title is editorial director, has creative control of Donna Hay. In March 2011, Hay's first television series, Fast, Fresh, Simple, began on The LifeStyle Channel. It's a 13-part series that features many of the recipes from her book of the same name.

Ms. Hay rises early and  works marathon hours - partly because she has difficulty delegating. Hay's life partner, Bill Wilson, is painted as "saintly and long-suffering", but everyone says he adores her. They have two sons. "Having a child has really chilled me out a little bit," she says. "A lot. It's given me another dimension to my life." Others are amazed at this comment. When Hay returned from maternity leave, half a dozen people, including the magazine's co-founder, Vanessa Holden, left the magazine.
Holden was seen by some as the mastermind behind Donna Hay. While Hay was the culinary wizard, Holden was the inspired designer and wordsmith who pulled everything together behind the scenes. Holden says she eventually left because she felt used. She was fine with the fact that Hay was the face of the magazine but felt she deserved more credit for her own contribution. Hay believes almost all the unhappiness at the magazine stemmed from the conflict between her and Holden. "Because Vanessa and I were best friends, it was like going through a divorce for everyone," she says.

Nonetheless, the magazine continues (as does Ms. Hay's success) and is an absolute delight visually. I look forward to each issue.


The salad I chose appealed to me because I love crispy polenta and teaming it with chorizo, tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella is brilliant. It's a simple salad to make and really a meal in itself.

Polenta, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad
Donna Hay Magazine, Issue #50

3 cups chicken stock
1 cup instant polenta
4 tablespoons butter, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
sea salt and cracked black pepper
EVOO, for drizzling
15-20 cherry tomatoes
2 chorizo, sliced
2 1/2 cups baby spinach leaves
350 grams buffalo mozzarella, torn
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons white balsamic or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed

Preheat oven to 425. Place the stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour into a lightly greased 9 by 13 baking pan. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until set. Turn out on a cutting board and cut into wedges. Place on a greased baking tray and roast for 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Set aside and keep warm.

While the polenta is roasting, make the dressing. Combine the vinegar, olive oil and garlic and stir to combine.

Place the tomatoes and chorizo on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast 3-5 minutes in the oven until chorizo is crisp and the tomatoes are tender.
Serve with the polenta, spinach and mozzarella. Spoon the dressing over everything to serve. Serves 4.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. Yeah, I've heard of her. She's one famous cookbook writer & chef. And thanks so much for sharing the amazing recipe as well. Looks delicious!
    Hope you're having a great day, Barbara.

  2. I could eat this salad in a heartbeat; unfortunately, Mr. Rosemary would turn his nose up at it! Donna Hay seems like an enigma to me. Hard-working and talented, but success must have had its price.

  3. I have bookmarked this recipe Barbara. Of all of the women on our list Donna Hay speaks to me the most. I love her magazine and her cookbooks grace my shelves.

  4. I have two of her cookbooks, great recipes. The salad looks delicious, love the ingredients. enjoyed the post, I knew of her but nothing about her.

  5. She sounds nice!

    I'm going to try your rolls again.

  6. A toothsome salad! What a great combination.



  7. Thanks for the introduction to Donna! That salad looks like a delicious way to make our "winter" tomatoes palatable.


  8. I see her recipes everywhere but have never gotten a book of hers or looked at the magazine... but then I'm knee deep in cookbooks I already have!

    I like the idea of the recipe. Funny about the polenta in the salad... I was just reading about rice used as a side for fancy cold gelatin dishes... cooked and pressed into shapes and left that way or fried, neither of which I've ever done, or used polenta in a salad! Think it's a great idea.

  9. The salad has all the mediterranean flavors I grew up with and love Barbara! Beautiful colors as well!

  10. A lovely full meal salad...and inexpensive to boot. Cool!

  11. This woman has been a revelation to me. I'd never heard of her! I am so curious to see her magazine and her cookbooks ... I wonder if our public library has anything by her in their collection!

    Your polenta recipe is perfect dressed up with the tomatoes and Chorizo! Some spice with the mellowness of the polenta ... perfect!

  12. I prefer my polenta crispy - so this speaks to me. I imagine when you are as successful as Hay - you're driven. It's not a world where you achieve that sort of success without a lot of work and give elsewhere in your life. But I must say - I am loving her recipes and will be cooking a lot more of her from now on.

  13. I prefer my polenta crispy - so this speaks to me. I imagine when you are as successful as Hay - you're driven. It's not a world where you achieve that sort of success without a lot of work and give elsewhere in your life. But I must say - I am loving her recipes and will be cooking a lot more of her from now on.

  14. I love her books. I have all of them and they are just wonderful bed side reading!

    Thanks for some inside info on one of my favorite authors!

  15. Looks fabulous. I'm ready for lunch!

  16. The salad looks delicious. What an interesting story, too, about Hay. I'd never heard of her before now, but she certainly sounds like a force to be reckoned with.

  17. Donna Hay sounds like she hit the ground running at a very young age! I love the sound of this salad - this would be a perfect week-night meal for me.

  18. This salad is chock full of some of my favorite ingredients...and now you've got me craving ALL of them! I've made a few of Donna Hay's recipes and have always been impressed.

  19. I had no idea she was that difficult to work with. I heard Martha Stewart was the same way. I love the recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  20. That is a fabulous salad...I love the crusty polenta...I can almost taste it. I had heard that she was difficult to work with...but I do love the results!

  21. I enjoyed reading all the background information you've given us on Ms. Hay, whose magazine is quite stunning.

    Crispy polenta in a salad----yes!

  22. I love polenta and tomatoes, my husband–chorizo, and my son mozerella. Tasty all together and something for every. Nice post.

  23. Really love Donna hay recipes dear Barbara! gloria

  24. It always makes me quite sad to hear that people - women in particular - behave badly when they are owners/leaders/brands . . . Such a waste of great talent in my opinion. I happen to subscribe to Donna's online magazine for the iPad and pick up her magazine when I can find it - I am inspired by the photography and I do enjoy her recipes. I just wish she weren't a mean girl . .

    Have really enjoyed this series Barbara!!

  25. what a coincidence--i'm better at making pastry than handling people as well. :)

  26. That is a gorgeous salad. It was a wonderful choice to showcase her recipes. The colors in the salad are wonderfully appealing. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  27. Oh my goodness, this looks absolutely divine! I love balsamic vinegar. This, paired with those amazing chicken wings and followed by sweet potatoes in spicy dip???? AAAAAAAHHHHH!!! Gastronomical heaven! The spicier the better! You have my tummy rumbling!

  28. I love this Donna Hay praise a lot! I have 2 of her books & am also subscribed on her lovely & very stylish Donna Hay magazine! It rocks! :)

    This salad is a fabulous one & looks so appetizing too, Barbara! ;)



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