Nov 30, 2012

A Donna Hay Christmas at David Jones On Seven.

As a pretty hardcore online shopper who occasionally worships at the altar of the 'latest and greatest' department stores on my travels, I have to confess to being pretty ignorant of the history stores like David Jones have in Sydney.  The buildings that house the stores are so beautiful in their own right.

Last night, I finally visited David Jones' 'On Seven' which is a beautifully restored space on the seventh floor of the Elizabeth Street store that is now used for special events and also to showcase bridal wear.  The event was a cooking and styling presentation by Donna Hay to celebrate both the upcoming festive season as well as the launch of Donna's latest cookbook, 'Fresh and Light'.  Being a fan of all of the above, it went without saying that I got myself a ticket the moment DJs released them last week.

I remember reading somewhere that when Elizabeth Street first opened in the 1920s, the seventh floor was a chic salon where clothes were shown to special clients.  The high ceilings and floor length windows certainly make the perfect backdrop against which to ponder the definitive looks of the season.  These days, the space is pared back with wooden floorboards and simple columns being the main features in the hall.  The lighting fixtures and those amazing windows commanded all my attention on their own.  You can see most of the city skyline from the windows - tree tops, buildings, church steeples.

Back inside, Donna had definitely stamped her trademark pared back style on the decor.  Some of her designs for Royal Doulton were on display, including this 'Mad Hatter' teapot and cake stand.  Donna admits to being 'terrible' at drawing her designs but that pictures rather than words are the way she works best.  Apparently the teapot was one of the more challenging things Royal Doulton have had to produce.  In addition to this range, Donna and her sister have a very hands on role in sourcing product for the general store in Woollahra.  Buying trips take the sisters all over the world with China being their most recent destination.  Aside from the quality of potential stock for the store, issues such as ethical production standards are also taken into account.  The store's new website has just launched this week.

Sparkling wine was served throughout the evening.  I was good though and stuck to water.

It was a very civilised evening.  We were seated in rows of white chairs with several flat screen televisions positioned so that we could easily see what was happening on stage.

The gift bags contained a box of Donna Hay Chocolate and Caramel Brownie Mix (RRP $7.99 AUD) and a kitchen timer.

Donna Hay kitchen and table ware.

The stage was stylishly set.  See what I mean about those fabulous windows and the view?

I love the rainbow SMEG fridges located backstage.

Tools of the trade for a food stylist - chic glass jars, tags, twine and wooden cutlery.

Donna took to the stage just after half past six and she had the crowd in the palm of her hand.  To me, her sense of humour and ability to be down to earth yet inspiring and creative came across so much more during this even than it did in her recent television series.

As she cooked, Donna chatted about her life as a working mother, her travels and the ups and downs of leading a life as frenetic as hers.

Donna at work.
The first dish she made was from 'Fresh and Fast',  the Ginger Poached Chicken With Fennel and Apple Slaw.  Aside from being as talented a food stylist as Donna, the secrets to making a salad look magazine worthy is to use a mandolin to slice your vegetables and to soak the sliced salad in iced water before plating.  Donna added lemon halves to the water to prevent discolouration of the ingredients.

The chicken was poached in standard supermarket stock.  One of the criteria for testing recipes that Donna and her chief recipe tester Hannah Meppem have for preparing the dishes is that they try to use supermarket brands as much as possible.  It's a way of simulating 'real world' cooking and a reassurance that you'll get at least as good a result as home as they do in the test kitchen.

Ginger Poached Chicken With Fennel and Apple Slaw.

No, Donna didn't cook for all 150 of us.  A catering company prepared the dishes whilst Donna and Hannah gave their presentation.  The salad was fantastic with such little preparation required.  The dressing was buttermilk and lemon juice which tasted surprisingly indulgent considering the simplicity and low fat nature of the ingredients.  One of the aims of 'Fresh and Light' was to create a range of quick yet healthy recipes without anyone feeling as if they were being deprived in the taste department.  If this recipe is anything to go buy, Donna and Hannah are on the money and I'm going to be using this cook book plenty over the summer.  I reckon I could even manage to fit the prep around Baby SSG's erratic concept of the sleep wake cycle.

For dessert, Donna demonstrated the Berry Puddings from the current Christmas issue of donna hay magazine.  The recipe is part of the Quick Fix feature which covers several clever ideas for cooking with panettone.  Again, this was a quick yet delicious way to make an impressive looking dish.  Fresh (or frozen) berries were briefly simmered in a sugar syrup and drained to cool.  Then, panettone was sliced and cut to fit serving jars with cookie cutters.  The dessert was assembled by layering panettone, fruit and syrup.  It was then refrigerated before being ready to serve with ice cream or cream.

Once again, the catering company did their thing and our pudding was served by out attentive waiters who also topped up champagne flutes with a liberal hand throughout the evening.  Gee, I'm missing my bubbles...

Berry Pudding with Panettone.
Silence descended on the audience as we politely scraped the bottom of our dessert glasses.

Ending the night with a bit of food styling improv, Donna and Hannah reworked the berry pudding using a wide necked vase to hold the pudding, trifle style.
The recipes Donna demonstrated were pretty flexible with regard to how they could be served and presented.  Both the salad and pudding can be easily presented as individual serves as well as large platters.  By using different jars and plates, both could be dressed up or down for the occasion.

Donna also gave us a sneak peak at how she'll be doing her Christmas table this year.  A simple runner of brown paper decorated with strands of paper sequins with home made bon bons and linen napkins wrapped with cinnamon sticks.

The evening went by way too fast...  I really enjoyed watching the recipes come to life on stage and in such pleasant surroundings too.

Before I knew it, I was in the queue to meet Donna and have her autograph my copy of 'Fresh and Light'.  The silicone 'spoonula' (RRP $12.99 AUD) was a gift with purchase at David Jones on the evening.  It's silicone and a trick with silicone utensils is to clean them in the dishwasher to remove odours and stains so that they can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes with no odour or taste transfer.  I'm going to test this theory out with my current collection of spatulas.

Last night's gift bag.


  1. Lisa @ Bithe MomentsNovember 30, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    That sounds like a fab cookbook. What a great event.

    I remember seeing an amazing exhibition of the costumes from Baz Lurhman's Romeo and Juliet on the 7th floor of DJ's. It is such a gorgeous space. I'm excited to hear that there is bridal stuff up there now, might poke my nose in next time I'm in Sydney.

  2. How fun! I've not been to a cooking demo like this! Jelly that you met cooking royalty - though now Donna has met blogging royalty!


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