The lovely-to-say word ostro has Italian origins and means a ‘southerly wind in the Mediterranean Sea’.
It was chosen by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, to name her popular food blog which launched in 2014 and again for her first Italian inspired cookbook which was released in August 2017.
Her fans know her affectionately as Julia Ostro and embrace her world via her stunning feed of online images which document her busy life with husband Nori and son Haruki.
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 “truly brilliant.”
“For me, the word Ostro ties together my love for Italy, my 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 it without preconceived notions.” Julia Busuttil Nishimura
A fluent Italian speaker, Julia’s home life was influenced by her Maltese parents and their proud cultural heritage. She recalls her home life as 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 it was that time that really inspired me and drove me to make a career out of writing and cooking. Julia Busuttil Nishimura
As Julia tells it, her approach to food favours intuition over strict rules and is about using your hands, rushing a little less and savouring the details.
She says that she is not about creating food that needs to be placed on a pedestal or admired from afar; but that she is all for food that slowly weaves its way into the fabric of your daily life – food for living and sharing.
I interviewed and photographed Julia for Mount Zero Olives, late in 2017 (check out their website for a free recipe ebook) and this is some of what she had to say…
Hi Julia, 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.
What suburb do you live in Melbourne?
We live in East Brunswick – I love that we’re so close to the city but it’s still really quiet and a lovely spot to raise Haruki. There’s great food and produce here and for us, Melbourne is a really exciting place to be.
Where do you source your produce?
Mostly from local farmers’ markets.I also shop a lot at speciality 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 would you add to a Foodie’s ‘you must try before you die, bucket-list’?
It would have to be the spaghettini with red-mullet, saffron and fennel from Tipo 00.
Your openness to being inspired by other cultures is evident. 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.
Where did you meet Norihiko? Does he have any fun observations on Melbourne or Melbourne life you’d be are happy to share?
I met Nori here in Melbourne. He was cooking in a Japanese restaurant where my friend was a waitress. We have lots of friends who are artists, ceramicists, stylists etc – he often comments on this. I think it’s maybe not as common where he is from in Japan and for him, it’s pretty inspiring. The relaxed lifestyle we have here is also pretty different to Japan – that’s something he really values about living in Australia.
What are you looking forward to this summer and beyond?
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 and all the best for 2018 – no doubt many delights await!
Footnote: while writing this profile, I discovered ostro listed in an online US urban dictionary as meaning ‘badass’. Badass is not a term used much in Australia, but I’m seeing it more and more on US yogi’s Instagram feeds. They use it when referring to strong and successful women who are carving out their own business and life. While Julia did not choose it for this meaning, and what drew her to the word is far more romantic and cultured… as a person who works with words, I found it curious and somewhat fitting too!