Julia Zemiro – Kitchen Spy

Television presenter Julia Zemiro in her home kitchen. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

By Peter Barrett

You know her as a television host of ABC’s Home Delivery and RocKwiz  and Eurovision on SBS, but a French upbringing and parents who trusted her in the kitchen from an early age served as the culinary base for Julia Zemiro’s brand of home cooking.

“By the time I went to uni I knew how to cook more than anybody in my share houses,” she recalls.

After a 10-year stint in Melbourne, Zemiro, 48, is back in Sydney and being influenced in the kitchen by her Danish partner, Carsten, and a desire to move away from what she calls the current fetishisation of food.

“We forget that most meals should be quite simple,” she says.

See Zemiro and RocKwiz as part of the Spectrum Now Festival at Sydney’s The Domain, March 3-13.

The staples 

My pantry: I’m a bit of a nut freak so I’ll have a jar of walnuts, a jar of splintered almonds that I toast (for porridge, salads, or whatever) and hazelnuts – they’re my favourite. We don’t have pasta often and it’s nothing fancy, I’m not big on brand names. I buy four-litre Moro extra virgin olive oil so I don’t have to lug things back and forth from the supermarket; and I do seem to have a lot of vinegar – apple cider for medicinal purposes sometimes, red wine, balsamic and white vinegar for cleaning.

My fridge: I’ve got all the mustards – mainly French and I love the Maille brand (the first thing my dad taught me was to make a dressing for a salad) – but I’m mad on horseradish as well. We have crispy dried onion, which the Danes sometimes put over their roast beef or salmon smorrebrod open sandwiches. Otherwise, I’ve got Meredith Dairy goat’s cheese, Lurpak butter and plain Greek yoghurt, to which I might add chopped-up cucumber to make a raita or eat on its own instead of ice-cream.

Secret vice

​Lakrids Danish licorice by Johan Bulow. I love that nice in-between salty-sweet taste, and the consistency is a little bit chewy. Whenever Carsten goes to Denmark or his sister comes here they bring it.

Last night’s dinner 

We shared a snapper fillet and did it on a grill pan with stir-fried fennel, carrots, onions, garlic and some lemon. And a glass of wine.

I’m drinking

We kind of drink any wine, we’re not posh about it at all. What we do make an effort to find, though, is coffee. Carsten makes me an emergency pack whenever I go away for Home Delivery so I have a little travel Bodum French press stocked with Nicaragua blend coffee by Rush, a great little boutique roaster in Bowral. We also like Pernod, with some ice and water to taste and Aalborg dill schnapps, which we keep in the freezer. It’s lovely with a meal.

My toolkit

It’s all about a bloody good knife and a sharpener. I once got my knives professionally sharpened and ended up cutting myself for about a two-week period so I thought I should learn how to sharpen my own and take control. I also have a terrific string cheese cutter wand and I’m a bit mad for my citrus zester. I love zest, I treat it like a seasoning and put it in salads, buttery fish, sauces and my lemon yoghurt muffins.

My inspiration 

I turn on the radio. Sometimes I’ll just put SBS radio on and if it’s a Russian program, I don’t care, I just like listening to it even though I can’t understand it. Radio helps me think.

Favourite 

My small, red Le Creuset pot. It really is from the ’70s and I love that it’s small, so you can cook something just for two people. My parents used it, they’ve given it to me – I love it.

Most unforgettable meal

The first time I took my parents out for dinner and paid for it. I was in my 20s and after years of having my parents feed me and look after me, the first time I took them both out was just lovely.

Recipe stalwart

Stir-fry. I just love that notion of doing it really quickly, serving it with brown rice (always), keeping it moving and using a little bit of water to help the moisture. I add ginger and tamari and that’s it.

Discovery

I love a mixed herb salad. I use a simple salad leaf and whatever herbs I have in the kitchen – it just turns my palate on so much. The one herb I discovered recently, though, is chervil. Yum.

This story was originally published in the Good Food sections of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 February, 2016. See the full image gallery and story here.