5 Minutes With…Mustafa Lajuan, olive guru


Never warmed to the salty cured fruit? One man’s stall on Queen’s Crescent market will change your mind



'Basically I love the texture, taste, contrasts and flavours.' Photo: Stephen Emms
‘Basically I love the texture, taste, contrasts and flavours.’ Photo: Stephen Emms
Mustafa Lajuan was brought up across London – everywhere from Islington to Ealing – but moved bang opposite Camden Lock two years ago. “It’s absolute madness living there,” he says, “but I love it – it’s busy, there’s a real variety, crazy tourism, and no day is ever the same.” He runs his Just Fresh Oils stall at the Lock on Wednesdays and Sundays and in “completely different” Queen’s Crescent on Thursdays and Saturdays. Look out for up to 37 different types of olives, as well as sun-dried tomatoes, argan oils and Manuka honey.

How did you start out?
My grandfather was involved in the agricultural side of Morocco, and used to have farms with lots of olive trees in the Atlas Mountains. The business has been passed down the generations. My dad, who grew up in Anfa, near Casablanca, settled in London in the 70s, and now my brother carries on the family trade. Some of our oils come direct from there; this year we’ll have some at the end of September as we harvest once a year. I’m actually half Moroccan, as my mum’s from Zaragoza in Spain.

So has it always been about olives?
No! I started in luxury retail in Bond Street, but it quickly became boring, and so in 2008 I started a coffee shop with my brother in 2008 in Farringdon, right inside the station. When that didn’t work out I turned to olives.

So you’re a born salesman?
I wish I was really great at selling! It’s more that I like to feed people healthy stuff – my passion is for healthy living, to make you care more about what you eat.

But what do you like most about olives? Basically I love the texture, taste, contrasts, the flavours – for example the Beldi is big, green and lighter in texture than Greek Kalamata, which is perfect for cooking, and the black Beldi are quite bland, but great for marinating or a tapenade. I mix my Beldi with organic feta, Kalamata, fresh oregano, and thyme: delicious.

Sicilian Nocellara: slightly dark green, buttery and pretty sweet. Photo: SE
Sicilian Nocellara: slightly dark green, buttery and pretty sweet. Photo: SE

If I said I hated olives, how would you change my mind?
Easy. Try the Sicilian Nocellara and it will transform your whole attitude, your whole mind. It’s mild, nice looking and tastes different.

You also sell oils. Why should we choose argan over olive?
It’s produced in the Sahara region from trees native to south Morocco. They’re the ones goats climb to reach the nuts, which are healthy and rich in vitamin E. In fact argan oil contains 27 times more of it than extra virgin oil. I also sell it as a cosmetic oil used for skin, hair, nails; you just rub a small amount in.

How do your two retail locations differ?
Queen’s Crescent is more residential, with an ethnic mix, a really good diversity, all quite healthy. There’s also a wealthier clientele from the streets to the north of the market. But we still need more people to come here.

And who else shouldn’t we miss on the Crescent market?
There are 35 and sometimes 40 stalls now. My immediate neighbours here are all great: the artisan bread man, the Italian bruschetta stall, the Argentinian grill guys, and the French/Algerian pastries. The food has improved massively in the last 18 months. Come and try it.

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Mustafa’s basic olive tips

'Halkidiki are large, pale green olives from Greece with a full flavour.' Photo: SE
‘Halkidiki are large, pale green olives from Greece with a full flavour.’ Photo: SE
KALAMATA
Pretty full-bodied from Greece with a rich, intense fl avour. Strong and naturally salty, mine are pitted with African spices. Mix them with salads and feta.
MOROCCAN PICHOLINE
These are black cured olives, which come from my family’s farms and dried out in sun, and then home-cured by my sister with sea salt in Kentish Town, where she lives.
HALKIDIKI
Large, pale green olives from Greece with a full fl avour. Nice spiced with garlic chilli.
SICILIAN NOCELLARA
Slightly dark green, buttery taste and pretty sweet. They’re the product of the climate in the south: good with a chilled glass of white wine.

Mustafa is at Queen’s Crescent market NW5 from 10am-3pm Thursdays and Saturdays. Follow him on Twitter @justfreshoils


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