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Dishing It Out

by fatweb

By Bridget Gourlay

When Julie Biuso was 13, she lied about her age and got a job waitressing in a Chinese restaurant. She’d fallen in love, you see — not with a boy but with a country. Her French teacher had regaled the class with tales of food — the warm fresh bread, the delicious meals, the raft of cheeses — and Biuso was determined to experience it for herself.

Of course, she needed the money to get there, which was how she wound up washing dishes in a steamy kitchen in her first year at high school. It’s an apt summation of the woman she is today; when Julie Biuso has a goal, she works as hard as she can pursuing it and it’s not often she doesn’t make it in the end.

It’s a quality which has seen her varied career as an award winning chef, broadcaster and food journalist span decades; one that has married food, business and much in between.


Growing good food

Biuso remembers a 1950s childhood of meat and three veg, when items like garlic and peppers were considered exotic. But, she says, New Zealand shed that mindset decades ago.

“There’s all sorts of new things that are popping up, like the gorgeous pine nuts that are just coming onto the market that are grown in Blenheim. The trees were first planted in 1998, they took quite a few years to produce sufficient quantity to put on the market, and they are amazing! All these off-the-mainstream little industries are rumbling away and are coming into fruition. They will explode soon.”

Take olive oil, something Biuso fell in love with in Italy. “There’s one huge estate in South Australia that produces more olive oil than all of New Zealand put together, but a lot of that oil is flabby and second tier and what we do produce in New Zealand is of very high quality; it’s low acid, fruity and has peppery flavours. What we do do, we do very well and there are other industries like honey and elderflower.”

As with almost everything we do, the New Zealand industry must look to quality not quantity. Often this means taking a commercially viable staple and adding value — and that takes creativity.

“I think we’ve got very good products to begin with but we’re very experimental. I see us becoming quite a force because we don’t have those old ties to any country so we’re free as a bird. That’s a great thing because it allows our creativity to come through.

“Maybe we’ve got good soil and good climate but there’s some of that tenacity too. We want to do well and it shows in the end product.”

However, today’s modern life often means a sense of disconnect, something Biuso is worried about. In a world of plastic pre-packaged meals, New Zealanders can go for days without preparing and eating something fresh.

“I’m really concerned that people are losing touch — and I mean that in a real physical sense – with what they eat. We need to be pushing the message to cook from scratch. Don’t buy garlic squeezed in a tube – why can’t you just peel a clove of garlic for goodness sake? Then you’ve got your own garlic with nothing in it, in a natural state.” This passion for fresh and local led to her role as an ambassador for Farmers’ Market New Zealand. But it’s not just the good food she thinks is important, but the way we eat it.

“We’re losing a little bit of that eating around a table and sharing, not just for the good feeling of the family being united —and it doesn’t matter what your family consists of — but the sharing thing over food.

“It’s a binding thing. We’re eating at a desk over the computer working late, grabbing something to eat before we go to the gym. Dashing off here, that really starts to destroy the fabric of daily life and to me that’s an important thing we teach our young kids.”

JulieBiuso4Business lessons

Biuso’s varied career could fill a book, but it all revolves around food and communicating that passion to the public.

She studied at the prestigious Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in London in 1976, then moved to Italy where she set worked as a caterer. When she returned to New Zealand with her Italian husband in tow, she set up her own catering company but soon began making a name for herself as a food writer.

She went onto write and edit Cuisine magazine, edit the Herald’s Viva and host various TV and radio cooking segments. She’s interviewed Jamie Oliver, cooked for Pavarotti and has published 15 recipe books.

Biuso has always set her sights on something and gone for it — ever since she scrubbed dishes as a 13 year old to go to France. And although she credits hours of hard work for getting her this far, Biuso says that’s only one ingredient in the recipe for success; trust, she stresses, is crucial.

“Building a trusted brand is really important. I’ve done that by never letting anyone down, never ripping anyone off. When it comes to recipes, it’s never taking shortcuts. In magazines it’s not just flicking it off, thinking thank god I got that done on time.”

She also says it’s important to feel the fear and do it anyway. “Never be scared, take huge jumps and leap in boots and all. Work hard. Sometimes I think I’m incredibly lucky but then I reflect, well I was there at the time because I did the work. Have great confidence in yourself, know yourself, but have a vision of what you want to do and where you are going with it.”

Biuso’s latest recipe book, Sweet Feast has just hit bookshelves. Sometimes clichés are all that fits, and each page of Sweet Feast is quite literally mouth-watering. It features light fluffy sponge cakes, exotic looking almond tartlettes and Kiwiana twists on classic dessert items such as rhubarb brulee.

And Biuso thinks people shouldn’t be wary of what occasional homemade baking will do to their waistlines. “The message gets a bit convoluted,” she says.

“My father lived until he was 99 and he grew his own vegetables until the last year of his life. He totally believed in moderation and that included sweet things.

“I think that’s the way to go, if it’s part of a healthy diet, homemade cakes and biscuits are gorgeous, they make a special occasion.

“The smell of baking makes your knees go weak sometimes. But made from home it’s so different to having stabilisers and artificial colouring and all the other things they like to put in to make biscuits and cakes stay on the shelf for four months.”

Sweet Feast is her 15th book. Today she combines her writing with running cooking classes in Auckland for the passionate amateur.

Most exciting has been her recent — and what she describes as her most prestigious — appointment as the ambassador for the New Zealand branch of the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Her career has gone full circle, from a 20-something newbie at the prestigious culinary school in London to being an ambassador for it back home.

“Funny how life works!” she says.

Reflecting on her life, Biuso is thankful for being able to make a career from combining her cooking and writing talents.  “It’s a nice lifestyle to be able to do things you enjoy,” she reflects. “I consider myself really lucky.”

Julie Biuso’s accomplishments are too varied to list here, so here’s a snapshot of her successes:


Completed Certificate Course at Le Cordon Bleu School of Cookery London


Established a catering business and then cooking school, called La Dolce Vita, in Auckland


Completed Advanced Certificate Course, Cordon Bleu School of Cookery London and teacher training


Started food broadcasts with Alice Worsley on Radio 1


Presented food programmes and interviewed as a guest for programmes for TV One morning television


All This And More, her first cookbook, was published


Began writing for Cuisine Magazine


Hosted programmes and acted as a regular guest for Radio New Zealand


Worked as the contributing food editor and advisor to Cuisine Magazine


Food editor of Viva, in the New Zealand Herald


Seventh cookbook, the award-winning Take a Vine-ripened Tomato, published


Food editor for Woman’s Day


Food editor for Your Home & Garden


Consulting food editor of Taste magazine


Twelfth cookbook, Sizzle Sensational Barbeque, published. It went on to be published internationally and translated into French


Satellite Television Show (mostly filmed and screened live) in the USA, screened to 21 TV channels


Fourteenth cookbook, Julie Biuso’s Never-ending Summer, published locally and internationally, and translated into German Dutch and Polish.

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