Our December Mount Zero Hero is Julia Busuttil Nishimura aka Julia Ostro.
The lovely-to-say word 'ostro' has Italian origins and means a ‘southerly wind in the Mediterranean Sea’. It was chosen by Julia to name her popular food blog launched in 2014 and again for her first cookbook released in August this year.
“For me 'Ostro' ties together my love for Italy, my Maltese heritage and my birthplace, Australia. It’s that southerly element!
“I wanted a name that people didn’t really know the meaning of, so they could come to both my blog and book without preconceived notions.”
Get the OSTRO Summer Salad recipe e-book here
A fluent Italian speaker, Julia’s home life was influenced by her Maltese parents and heritage. She recalls her home life having a huge food focus, and many shared meals.
“I was taught by my parents that a dish may only have three ingredients, but if they’re good ones, the right ones, it will taste amazing. That’s something I’ve really held onto. Living in Italy cemented those ideals and really drove me to make a career out of writing and cooking.”
Her simple and intuitive approach to cooking has attracted thousands of loyal admirers, including well-known industry figures Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver who called her first book “life-enhancing” and “truly brilliant.”
A love of discovery and for a broad range of culinary influences was evident when she and her husband Nori visited Mount Zero Olives’ HQ to taste and mix bespoke oil olives.
She shared stories of her early life in Adelaide, in Hamilton Victoria and experiences travelling and living in southern Italy and visiting Nori’s family in Japan. And the ways that places and cultures, inspire and shape approaches to production and consumption.
In her own words, her approach to food ‘favours intuition over strict rules and is about using your hands, rushing a little less and savouring the details. It’s not food that needs to be placed on a pedestal or admired from afar; it is food that slowly weaves its way into the fabric of your daily life - food for living and sharing.’
We are thrilled to share with you a short Q&A below and recipes prepared by Julia for Mount Zero readers.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What led you to cook?
I’ve always been cooking or preparing food. I can still remember being very young and helping to make fresh ricotta at home, or shelling broad beans that we’d just picked from our garden. For me being in the kitchen feels really natural and something I’m just meant to be doing. My parents are both Maltese and everything was always about food; good produce and sharing meals together. A dish might only have three ingredients, but if they’re good ones, it will taste amazing. That’s something I’ve really held onto.
Living in Italy cemented those ideals and really drove me to make a career out of writing and cooking.
Where do you source your produce?
Mostly from local farmers’ markets.
I also shop a lot at specialty Italian delis for specific ingredients as well as local bakeries, butchers and fishmongers. Grocery shopping is never a one-stop affair!
What are a couple of your career highlights to date?
Writing and publishing Ostro has been the biggest achievement for me, and seeing it in shops alongside some of my favourite authors has been a real career highlight. It was also so great to have it featured in Gourmet Traveller, a magazine I’ve enjoyed reading since I was really young.
What is your current favourite menu item and why?
As it warms up, I’m making a simple pasta dish with fresh cherry tomatoes.
You just deseed the tomatoes and mix them in a bowl with good olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt.
Then you toss through the cooked pasta along with fresh basil and oregano. It takes just as long as the pasta takes to cook and tastes of summer.
What feedback do you get from your (many!) fans?
People always write to me and say how they love my recipes and that they just work – which is a very good thing to hear!
Also that they now love making pasta, or bread – things that seemed daunting before but now are part of their rituals and family traditions.
What’s your favourite tool in the kitchen?
My kitchen knife. I bought it several years ago in Kyoto and I would be lost without it. It feels so familiar and I feel I cook my best with it.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t in the food business?
I have trained as an Italian teacher, in fact I just completed my Masters - so perhaps I’d be teaching full-time. But I know I’d always integrate food into my lessons!
What is one word you use to describe Mount Zero Olives?
We are forever creating a Foodie’s ‘bucket-list’ – what's something you’d like to add?
It would have to be the spaghettini with red-mullet, saffron and fennel from Tipo 00.
Your curiousity and interest in the world at large is evident in what you do and how you do it. How often to do you travel out of Melbourne, to Japan and elsewhere?
We usually go to Japan once a year to visit family. It’s always such a huge source of inspiration for food ideas! Italy a little less often, but it’s always on my list and I am planning a trip there in 2018.
What are you looking forward to this summer and beyond?
Christmas! I’m so looking forward to having all of my family together around a table and to feast on some beautiful food. I’m very much excited by the possibility of some beach time and perhaps we’ll go camping down the great ocean road early in the new year. Beyond that, I’m working on a second book and planning some overseas travel too!
Thank you for your time Julia. All the best for 2018 – we’ve no doubt many delights await you.