If you ever find yourself in Brunswick East caught by the heady scent of just-baked goods, you might well be within sniffing distance of Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s home.
“For me, food and cooking are so intertwined into my daily life, the lines of personal and professional are always blurred, and it’s how I like to think of it all,” says Julia. “It’s who I am, not what I do.”
This life-affirming love for creating simple, flavoursome meals led to the launch of her blog in 2014 and publication of her eponymous book, Ostro, in 2017. Named for the southern Mediterranean wind in Italy, with a knowing wink to the Latin root for ‘Australia’, Ostro enabled the enthusiastic gourmand to share her carefully gathered recipes under a unified banner.
“Above all, the food I was making was my home food – I’ve never looked to fit into a box or certain trend, so the name had to match that,” she explains. “With my family coming from Malta, my love of Italy and me living in Australia, Ostro tied it all together.”
The fascination for food began as early as pre-school, when Julia’s mother would encourage her by reading recipes out to try. Hers was a childhood of formative culinary memories: collecting saltwater at the beach for making ricotta with her parents, and spring afternoons podding broad beans with her grandmother.
“My family kitchen was really wonderful,” says Julia. “My uncle is a cabinet maker and my mum designed the space for hers and our needs in mind. Wide bench tops, double ovens, lots of drawers and natural light. It’s where I learned to cook and has always felt very special.”
Upon moving to Melbourne and cooking her way through a series of sharehouse kitchens, Julia developed a necessarily self-reliant approach to food. Forget fad superfoods and gadgets – to cook the Ostro way is to cultivate one’s own intuition: watching for a perfectly golden crust, trusting your tastebuds to discern what may be lacking, and learning correct consistencies by feel.
Today, Julia creates from a charmingly modest yet functional kitchen in the home she shares with her husband Nori and young son Haruki. And, just as Julia’s family influenced her own food-filled path, her child has a similarly hands-on approach.
“Haruki loves being in the kitchen – eating and helping, usually at the same time,” says Julia. “He adores anything that’s a noodle, whether it be spaghetti, udon or soba!”
Photography by Marnie Hawson