IN CONVERSATION WITH:
Julia Busuttil Nishimura
| Melbourne-based cook and author |
This month we sat down with the oh so wonderful
Melbourne-based cook and author, Julia Busuttil Nishimura.
We spoke of mornings filled with waffles, pancakes & breakfast tacos, her love of markets and Maltese fish soup. We also were lucky enough to get a glimpse of what we can expect for the release of her new cook book! Such inspiration, talent and openness…thank you Julia!
What does a morning in your household look like?
Mornings in our household are a sort of organised chaos. It mostly revolves around getting the boys ready for school and daycare, but nothing really happens until we’ve had a coffee. Nori usually heads downstairs with the boys while I check my emails and make a plan for the day. When I hear the coffee beans grinding I’ll come down and join everyone too. Nori is the breakfast guy and tends to just make something that everyone feels like. I love a few hard boiled eggs or a smoothie where as Haruki is into cereal and Yuki, toast. It’s kind of whatever goes. Weekends are for waffles, pancakes or breakfast tacos. Nori drops Yuki off and I’ll take Haruki to school and then pick up produce from my local grocer on the way back home to use for recipe testing.
Your passion for fresh produce and supporting local is inspiring. Was the importance of this something you educated yourself on or was this a part of your childhood growing up?
I definitely grew up eating seasonally, but it was mostly because of affordability. It made sense to eat that way. We grew some produce like broad beans and walked down to the beach to collect sea water to make ricotta (irkotta in Maltese). Family friends would drop off rabbits or snapper they had caught. I was always really interested in all aspects of cooking though, including shopping for produce. I loved picking berries as a child right through to speaking with farmers at the market when I was in Sicily as an eighteen year old. I suppose the thread is long, but it wasn’t until I lived in Italy for a more extended period of time after high school, that it all came to the forefront. I loved going to the market and using what was in season. Speaking to the fishmonger about what was best that day. The way of life, using the freshest, most local, and the best produce available to you stuck, and is such a pivotal part of how I cook and eat.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your recipes?
I draw a lot of inspiration from my upbringing and time living in Italy, but also from my husband’s stories from his childhood in Japan, which are very special to me. Travel and memories are a huge part of how I write. But inspiration also comes from how I’m feeling, a mood or what I am craving. I might have tasted a dish that I can’t get out of my head and just have to make it and then it evolves into something new. Underpinning everything though is seasonal produce. Using what is in season is so integral to the way I cook. It’s what excites me about food, all the coming and goings of ingredients and just how special each season is.
Can you name (if possible) one of your favourite recipes in your current cook books; OSTRO & A Year Of Simple Family Food?
It is so hard to name favourites but I suppose the ones that are most special are ones with very strong memory attached to them. The Aljotta (Maltese fish soup) in OSTRO is a recipe based on my grandmother. My mum taught me to make it from memory and I adapted it for my book. It’s so fragrant with tomato and delicately poached fish, rice in at the end too. So comforting and a recipe I really cherish.
Our Executive Chef, Jacqui Challinor also has a Maltese background and has kindly introduced us to Pastizzi…. INCREDIBLE! What is one of your favourite Maltese dishes to cook at home?
I love Jacqui’s food so much! Pastizzi is just amazing! I love grabbing one before getting on the boat to Gozo. Lovely memories! Something I often make at home is Ħobż biz-Żejt which translates to ‘Bread with oil’. Slices of crusty Maltese bread (sometimes Ftira), spread with kunserva (tomato paste), drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with tuna, capers, olives, onion and parsley or mint. There are lots of variations, but that’s how I do it. It’s basically and open sandwich and it’s SO GOOD! I also love to make Pixxispad which is swordfish, just panfried in olive oil with some lemon and capers. Sometimes I’ll make Torta tal-Lampuki (Lampuki (Mahi-Mahi) pie). Imqarrun il-Forn (Baked macaroni) is a regular and also like to use Maltese sausages in pasta sauces too.
We would love to hear what is inspiring you right now; a book, a brand, maybe someone in particular?
I am currently reading Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino who is a journalist and broadcaster. It is such an in-depth and fascinating book about different foods which are, for the most part, unheard of and also on the verge of extinction. It’s about biodiversity and the importance of it. A really important book for our time. I love Dan’s work on BBC Channel 4 – The Food programme and this book hasn’t disappointed. I also just bought the most gorgeous espresso cups from Malaika Linens, an Egyptian linen and homewares brand. Their things make me feel like I’m on holiday at home, which is a rather nice feeling.
You’re hosting a dinner party at your house, what are you serving up food and drink wise?
I have just gotten into margaritas, a bit late to the party, I know! So probably a Tommy’s margarita to start to cool everyone down and get into the mood. Nori loves too barbecue, so I might marinate some butterflied chickens with lemon, oregano, garlic and olive oil and cook them over coals in the backyard. I’ll make some flat breads and salad and let everyone help themselves.
With our doors now open at NOMAD Melbourne we must ask… your favourite dish on the menu?
I had the BEST meal at NOMAD just before Christmas. I think I am still dreaming of the ‘Smoked mussels, piment d’espelette, toum, hash brown’. It was crazy good and something that I wouldn’t do at home so was a real treat!
When choosing a restaurant to dine at, what influences your decision?
I really appreciate restaurants that put effort into the smaller details. Of course the food has to be delicious, but it’s all of the different moving parts which make for a nice dining experience. The service, the atmosphere and the feel of a place really influences where I dine. I love going to places where I can feel like I am a regular, even if I’m not. Friendly and approachable.
With two amazing cook books published already, we are very excited for your 3rd Book coming in August this year. Any details you can share on what we may have to look forward too?
Thank you! I am super excited for its release this year. It’s bigger than my previous two, with 100 beautiful, yet simple recipes, for the home cook. I can’t share all that much yet except that it is looking so truly stunning and is filled with so much good food that I love and think people will too. I am hopeful we can do some fun events to celebrate its launch this year too. Something that I missed with the release of A Year of Simple Family Food in 2020.