Modern Classics: Book 1

by Donna Hay

Published by HarperCollins

192 pages, 2002


Read a review of the instant cook by Donna Hay



Classics in the Eye of the Beholder

Reviewed by Monica Stark


On hearing the title of this book and the name of its author, there are foodies that would argue that any book with Donna Hay's name on the cover is something of a modern classic. They'd be right. In less than a decade, the Australian goddess of simple food has transformed the way we approach cookbooks and, to a certain degree, cooking itself. All of Hay's books are studies in simplicity: clean lines, stark backgrounds, white serving dishes, slightly out of focus food photography. But these aren't just design statements: in every one of her books, Hay has managed to break even traditionally complicated recipes into simple steps.

Though, ostensibly, it's not the purpose of the book, in Modern Classics: Book 1 Hay has brought her super simplicity to greater heights then ever before. Imagine a single page with eight recipes, each a single paragraph, including ingredients: Yorkshire Pudding, Béarnaise Sauce, Salsa Verde, Caramelized Onion Stuffing, Pepper Sauce, Easy Herb Stuffing, Lemon and Herb Stuffing, Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce. All on one page. One paragraph each. Another page: more complicated recipes this time: only four on this page: Christmas Turkey, Glazed Ham, Garlic Prawns and Chinese Barbecue Pork, each with an ingredients list and a couple of paragraphs of explanation.

While the kids at Le Cordon Bleu might be fainting dead away at the though, Modern Classics is capable of changing the way we approach even the most time-honored favorites:

In updating the classics, I've taken into account the different ways we cook and eat food in modern life, and the new kinds of ingredients that are now readily available. ... My aim was to present commonsense cookery in a modern way, so that mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers would have something practical and inspiring to give the next generation of young adults as they leave home, and enjoy a cooking revival in their own kitchens.

Classics, of course, are in the eye of the beholder and, judging from the recipes Hay has included, her eye is indeed on the modern table. From Macaroni and Cheese to Octopus Salad, from Shepherd's Pie to Baked Chicken and Pumpkin Risotto, from Spinach and Cheddar Soufflé to Onion, Anchovy and Olive Tarts, these are the classics of our generation and, perhaps as Hay intended, of the generations still to come.

In Book 1, Hay deals with savories: Soups, salads, vegetables, roasts, simmers, pasta, noodles, rice, plus (savory) pies and tarts. Dinner -- and its accoutrements -- comes first. Modern Classics: Book 2 is slated for an autumn 2003 release and will cover the sweet side of the classic coin with cakes, puddings as well as "slices of our childhood." In the meantime, dinner never looked so elegantly simple. | November 2002


Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.