In 2017, Yu Ozone had an illness she couldn't explain: her stomach was racked with pain, she was constantly exhausted and she vomited at an abnormal frequency. She went to a doctor, but instead of receiving a prescription for medication, she was told to quit her job.
"I was shocked by the doctor's words," she says.
So Ozone stopped work as a Sydney sales representative for a Japanese food distributor.
"After quitting work and staying at home for a month, the symptoms did not improve at all," she says.
Ozone went to another doctor. "It could be an allergy," she was told. She went on an elimination diet and discovered she shouldn't eat gluten, dairy and eggs – she was allergic to them. A naturopath told her to avoid food additives and cook everything from scratch.
"Suddenly, I had to give up eating many things. But that's okay, I could manage to do that," Ozone says.
The tough part was no longer sharing food with her husband. They'd sit there, eating separate meals – a real contrast to the times they happily dined out together or relished cooking with each other in the kitchen.
Ozone became determined to make gluten-free, vegan food they both could enjoy. Mastering bread was a priority – she loved eating loaves and toast, so eliminating it altogether had been hard. Sure, she'd tried gluten-free supermarket alternatives, but their additives made her ill. So when she learned that Hiroshima University had successfully produced bread from rice, she did something unusual: she immediately bought a plane ticket to go there.
"I couldn't find such bread in Australia, I also didn't have the skills to make it myself. I thought that I had to go to Japan to learn this," she says.
Just a month later, she was on campus grounds. Ozone still recalls the first time she tried her teacher’s rice bread.
"I was shocked. It was really fluffy and very close to wheat bread," she says.
When Ozone returned to Australia, it took her over 100 attempts to get it right.
"Japanese rice is sticky and highly water-retaining, so it becomes very delicious when made into bread. However, Australian rice is dry [in comparison], so when I made it according to the recipe I learned in Japan, a completely different result turned out."
After many exhausting hours experimenting with water content, rice flour and fermentation time, she finally replicated that moment she had in Japan – eating that miraculous piece of rice bread. She was so happy, she cried.
Rice bread is one of Comeco Foods' many offerings. Ozone started the business after her 2017 diagnosis, and has since developed a gluten-free and vegan range inspired by the Japanese flavours of her family's dining table. The plant-based sushi menu, for instance, includes a smoky barbecue sushi roll, topped with char-grilled inari (tofu) and eggplant miso.
There's also an okra and cucumber roll flavoured with plum mayonnaise and natto (fermented soybeans).
"My grandma always made very traditional Japanese fermented foods," she says. Comeco Foods features these foods – miso, natto, amazake (fermented rice drinks) – created from scratch, as her grandmother did.
Ozone's sourdough doughnuts (which come in sesame, matcha, Japanese curry and other flavours) are fried to order in Comeco Foods' new takeout store in Sydney's Newtown. Originally, she sold typical doughnuts, but Ozone remembers the "sad face" of a friend's son who couldn't eat them due to multiple allergies (he couldn't have gluten, dairy, egg, nuts and seeds).
"I thought, let's make something that he can eat with everyone. That's how sourdough doughnuts have developed."
Creating food that's accessible to everyone - that's what motivates her. It's why she uses seaweed and shiitake mushrooms to replace fish-based dashi in Japanese dishes, replaces grilled eel in sushi with well-oiled eggplant, produces panko crumbs from rice bread and applies Japanese cooking techniques to create alternative sauces and pastes (she likes the kasaneni method: layering vegetables tightly in a pot to extract potent flavours).
"She thought she wasn't able to eat doughnuts for rest of her life. When I saw that, I was also happy and cried as well."
Sometimes customers are overwhelmed when they're suddenly able to eat something they thought would always be off-limits. Like the woman who cried joyfully while trying a sourdough doughnut.
"She hasn't eaten a doughnut for 20 years since [her] allergy," says Ozone. "She thought she wasn't able to eat doughnuts for rest of her life. When I saw that, I was also happy and cried as well."
Ozone can celebrate other achievements since she launched Comeco Foods three years ago: more shared moments enjoying food with her husband and her vastly improved health ("I live every day … full of energy").
The lessons learnt from her grandmother's kitchen – roasting sesame on the frypan instead of just grinding plain seeds and altering the cut of a vegetable to change its taste – also continue to flavour Comeco Foods' menu, as people pick up matcha doughnuts and mushroom tempura chilli rolls from Ozone's storefront.
524A King Street, Newtown NSW
Saturday – Sunday 10am–2pm (home delivery available on Fridays)
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Resembling a focaccia, these yoghurt flatbreads are topped with vine tomatoes, chilli and ricotta on one loaf and potato and anchovy on the other.
What beats a chocolate cookie? A triple chocolate cookie, of course! Get messy with the chocolate drizzle for an impressive, decadent bake.