Since launching Ostro in 2014, Julia Busuttil Nishimura's collection of recipes have gained a loyal following for her doctrine toward seasonality & generous flavour - not to mention the enviable aesthetics. Recently adapted to hardcover & paperback, Ostro shares Julia’s pleasure that comes from slowing down and cooking with simple ingredients. Her dishes interpret her influences from Italy & the Mediterranean with a decidedly Australian element - a true representation of modern food, with a respectable nod to the timelessness & rich history of Italian fare.
We meet Julia in her home city of Melbourne to discuss the delight in cooking with intuition, her time spent immersing in Italian culture and her penchant for Japanese homewares.
You started documenting your culinary creations whilst living in Italy, what inspired your decision to move?
After high school, I went to Europe for a holiday, spending a few days here and there. I met my sister in Rome, who was living there at the time and immediately fell in love – with the food, the language and the people. It felt like home. I spent the next four years studying Italian in Melbourne and every year I would travel back but I knew I needed to spend more time there. I found a job working as a nanny for a family in the Tuscan countryside, bought my plane ticket and with no apprehensions moved there for 5 months. It was the most wonderful experience.
What inspired your decision to move back to Melbourne?
I always knew I would return to Melbourne – I had university to finish and had plans to study further and become a teacher. I also was really craving the opportunity to make a home space and emulate what I learned in Italy here in Melbourne.
Describe your typical day:
I don’t really have a typical day – some days are spent entirely with Haruki maybe going to the park and baking a cake together but often I’ll have photo shoots or spend the day writing. My ideal day though would be breakfast with Nori and Haruki followed by a trip to the farmer’s market. Once I’m home and have everything I’ve bought laid out on the table, I’ll plan things to cook and test out new recipes that I am thinking of. The afternoon would be spent in the kitchen cooking and eating. These are the best days.
What is it you enjoy most about cooking/baking?
Cooking satisfies my curiosity enormously. I’m always so excited to be in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter if I’m cooking something for the first or twentieth time, I never really tire of it. I feel so truly content when I’m making food and it’s a good opportunity for me to focus and just be in the moment. Being able to make other people happy with my food, whether by feeding them or sharing my recipes is a great gift.
What is your approach to creating dishes?
I very much favour simple food. I love being able to taste each ingredient in a dish and how they work harmoniously together. I emphasise the importance of cooking with the seasons because it it is usually the most flavoursome and also the most affordable.
You’ve recently completed a tour promoting your first book, Ostro. Tell us about your writing habits & recipe selection process:
I keep a notebook with me all the time. It’s where I jot down ideas when I’m out and about, but also what I use to document the beginnings of recipes when I’m home in the kitchen. I’m not very methodical with my writing and will usually write down a rough idea for a dish, test it out then come back and tidy it up much later. If a recipe hasn’t worked out, I’ll make a decision whether it’s worth pursuing or not. Often writing recipes for cakes or baked goods require a few tweaks before they’re right.
You have quite the Instagram following! What is the role that Instagram has played in the development of Ostro?
I initially saw Instagram as more of a private social media platform, but it slowly became my main way to communicate recipes and ideas with people. The nature of it, being so visual, means it’s so well-suited to food and as my following steadily grows, I find myself connected to so many wonderful people. I think it’s been really instrumental with Ostro, especially now with my book. People are cooking from the book and sharing photos of the food they’re making – it’s really encouraging to be able to read kind words and see results in this way.
You’re an Italian teacher, author, mother to Haruki & wife to Nori, who you join as curator of Japanese homewares for an online store – Minami - how do you balance home and work life?
It’s something I’m still working on. Especially with a toddler around, I find myself grabbing minutes where I can, even if it’s at 7am on a Saturday. Because a lot of my work revolves around being in the kitchen cooking, it means I can be “working” but still spending time with my family cooking and eating, which I really am grateful for. Teaching is still something I find incredibly satisfying but similarly to Minami, they’ve both taken a backseat for a while –I think we’ll invest more time into it again. For now, my focus is cooking, writing and being with my little family.
Your beautiful son, Haruki must be close to 2, how are his personality traits developing as he grows, what kind of person is he?
He turned two a few months ago and everyday he’s changing – talking more and learning new things! He is very spirited and independent and loves helping in the kitchen – it’s so lovely to see him enjoying cooking and preparing food. He’s really affectionate and will pick flowers for us and loves family hugs. If he could have his way, he’d be outside playing with water for the whole day.
What is your approach to style? And do you have a style uniform?
I never wear pants, so it’s either a skirt and top or a dress. At the moment I’m really into full skirts and tops with flowing arms which feel a little special. I live in low cut white canvas shoes and wear them with everything, much to my mother’s dismay! I have a small rotation of clothes but I own so many earrings which I love to wear to change an outfit. Because I do a lot of my work at home in the kitchen, I tend not to stay in ‘home’ clothes - I'm more productive this way and if I feel good I cook better too.
Who are your go-to foodie influencers?
I’m influenced by so many food writers – Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Rose Gray, Ruth Rogers and Nigel Slater are probably the people who have had the biggest impact on me and my writing and cooking style. Their common thread is the emphasis on simplicity, freshness and respect for the ingredients, something I value dearly.
What is your all time favourite meal?
Something understated always wins me over. I adore a simple plate of pasta. In the summer time, Paccheri with my summer tomato sauce and in the winter, a bowl of the Tuscan soup called Ribollita will do me splendidly.
The best restaurant for Italian in Melbourne?
For pasta, I always head to Tipo 00! The food, service and ambience is always A+. They’ve also opened a sister restaurant next door called Osteria Illaria, which has a wider offering and is equally as amazing! For Pizza, I love Kaprica and DOC, which are both in Carlton.
What is the most memorable meal you had whilst living in Italy?
Once I ate at an Agriturismo, which is I suppose like a farm stay. This particular one also had a restaurant where all of the food they cooked and prepared had been made from ingredients directly grown or raised on their farm. It was down the road from where I lived in the Tuscan countryside and one of the cooks prepared the most incredible ravioli filled with fresh ricotta and foraged borage. It was served simply with warmed butter and was still to this day the best pasta I have ever eaten.
Your favourite holiday destination?
Italy always! But we also go to Japan every year and each time it’s different and exciting and so wonderful. I do love a do-nothing sort of trip but a city vacation where there’s lots of good food usually will win me over.
I’m currently working on a second book and am hoping to go back to Italy early next year for a bit of a research which I’m very much looking forward to. Aside from that rather large project, I’m writing a Tokyo guide for my website and am continuing to teach Italian a little as well as pasta classes, which I thoroughly enjoy.
*Julia wears the Belport Silk Gathered Sleeve Top in Cherry and the Emerson Linen Godet Skirt in Black.
Shop Ostro here.
Follow Julia on Instagram : @juliaostro