Josh Ozersky on His Upcoming Wedding Feast, the Demise of the Feedbag and (Food) World Domination
Josh Ozersky and friend.
Jason Perlow/Hamburger America
Last Friday morning on the windswept tundra that was Soho, one half expected to encounter a pack of wolves trundling down Spring Street. Instead, a larger, equally hungry apparition materialized in the mercifully insulated confines of Balthazar: Josh "Mr. Cutlets" Ozersky.
After removing his fedora and declining the coat check, he debated over the breakfast menu. A plate of eggs and potatoes was requested, with a sausage side added at the last moment. Though a triple-hitter Queens burger foray loomed in the afternoon (as part of his preparations for the burgers he's planning to ingest during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Burger Bash later this month), dinner would be a meal-replacement shake. "I'm trying to keep it under 7,000 calories a day," Ozersky cracked.
No matter his physical size, which is considerable, the former Feedbag scribe is an increasingly large presence in the food world, popping up on platforms as varied as the Heritage Radio Network ("I really want to have NPR show"), Rachael Ray's website, and Time.com.
Word is you're engaged. Congratulations.
I am engaged -- ecstatically so. I was just making arrangements. I'm going to have a buffet at my wedding, and it's going to have all the greatest chefs making different dishes in steam trays. I want to have Orhan Yegen doing marinating vegetables with hummus -- there's a lot of Israelis who are going to be there. My fiancee's parents are Israeli. There's going to be vegetarians there -- entirely from her side of course -- so they need to have a vegetable, so they can eat that. And then I might have the great Joe Ng do some dim sum. And then -- I haven't told anyone about this -- but I want to have Eddie Schoenfeld do a big salad he makes with this wonderful black vinegar dressing. Then I'm gonna have three pastas: a vegetarian pasta, a meat pasta, and a seafood pasta. The seafood pasta is gonna be Ed Brown's scallop raviolis; the vegetarian pasta, I'm going to get Michael Psilakis to do a vegetarian moussaka, with tons of cream and eggplants or whatever. And then I want to have Michael White make lasagna -- which no one has ever had; it's not in any of the restaurants.
You brought up vegetarians -- what's your stance on them these days?
My philosophy is "love the sinner, hate the sin." That's what the Catholic church's attitude towards sexual deviancy is. I don't like vegetarianism, which I see as wrong-headed and unwholesome. But I'm also willing to cede that the logic of animal rights, as first articulated by Peter Singer and then later embraced by writers like Jonathan Safran Foer and so forth, is essentially irrefutable. Meatheads who try, by making stupid arguments like, 'Why do we have teeth?" are just making jerks of themselves. Are you at all concerned with eating meat that is sustainably raised or not filled with hormones?
If it tastes better, I'm concerned about it. Let's talk about the young Ozersky. Have you always been the kind of person who could have breakfast at Balthazar and then go have three burgers in Queens?
I am that kind of person, which is why I'm fat. Professionally, I was the Queens restaurant critic for Newsday. And many years ago, in the early nineties, I wrote a column in Westside Spirit called the "Impoverished Gourmand" under the name Caspar Gutman -- he was the proto-Mr. Cutlets. Because I was poor, I went around eating a lot of street food, so I learned a lot about that. But later on, my second tour of duty in New York, when I came back after I had been married, divorced, and had a little money in my pocket, then I liked to eat in regular restaurants. My father was a great gourmand. He was one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's most favorite customers -- he would try out new dishes on my dad. So I got to go to JoJo when JoJo was really good. When I came back the second time, I would eat out a lot and I got a taste of the high life, but I still liked the kebabs and all the street shit.
It's gonna be Colonel Sanders' actual life, which is very interesting. It serves to recapitulate practically the history of modern times. Speaking of other things you're up to...you're launching Ozersky.TV?
Ozersky.TV is a business that I started with Ben Leventhal of Eater. The idea is that it's a multi-platform content source, which is another way of saying that I'm going to make video about food and restaurants. Just yesterday, I went to Katie Lee Joel's house, which just went on the market, and got a tour of the house, and then she made me meatloaf sandwiches. I've shot like 30 of them already. They're gonna be three minutes long, beautiful high-definition video. That's hopefully gonna be in hotels and taxi cabs, but we're still working on it.
[Fiddles with phone] Oh, the Feedbag, by the way, was hacked into by Canadian Viagra the other day. It's down. Citysearch has to rebuild it up.
Speaking of the Feedbag, it lived just fourteen months. Why did you leave? Some people were unhappy about that.
Well, I was unhappy about that. Citysearch, in an act of staggering, encouraging imagination, hired me on as the in-house "name" food writer. They gave me total creative control, created this beautiful site. But it's not the kind of thing, frankly, that is easily monetized or quantified. So eventually I began to get the sense that they were going to begin to ask themselves, "Wait a minute, we're paying this guy all this money to blog about spaghetti he ate -- why, again?" It was just about that time that Ben came to me with the idea of Ozersky.TV, and I got the book deal. So I left. Did you get fed up with blogging? Or was it that you tried to break up with Citysearch before they broke up with you?
I did break up with them before they broke up with me. I liked having an $80,000-a-year job with benefits and a nice office and a title, but on the other hand, blogging's one of the hardest things that anyone can do. I mean, the kind of blogging that I did for three years, of writing news and opinion -- in real time -- eight to fourteen posts a day or whatever it was, nobody who hasn't done it can imagine how hard it is. With all these projects in the works, some have wondered if you're trying take over the food world.
Yes. And what's your ultimate plan for domination?
What I'm trying to do, I'll be honest with you -- even though we're in the age of new media and websites, a writer, no matter how successful, is basically standing there with his hat in his hand hoping the editors will throw him a crumb. I'm very good friends with Rachael [Ray], and Rachael's thing is like, it's not enough to be a platform, you have to be a brand.
So you really do think it's important to become a brand? To a lot of writers that might sound odious.
I mean, I used to want to be a public intellectual. My heroes were people like George Orwell and G.K. Chesterton and ... Gore Vidal, whatever -- essentially professional smart people. That's why I went to history school. But there was no work for that. Nobody wanted to hear my opinion about American culture. But I did find a market for my opinion about who makes the best bacon. So on a smaller scale I enjoy being a kind of public intellectual within the food world. Food is part of our culture, it's an increasingly central part of American culture. Why do you think that is?
Jonathan Gold had a very interesting Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times where he said that food is occupying the space that music used to occupy, as a cultural area by which we define ourselves. I don't think that food is going to displace rock music for that, but it's taken some of that space.
Anything else I can tell you? Yes: How's your gout doing?
My gout was simply a temporary physiological setback. I was so delighted to have that, since it was such an ailment of the decadent and portly...depraved sybarites. But it was a bit of a wake-up call. Also, they said my liver was getting fatty. So that's why I'm not eating pastrami meat-tattas every morning like I used to.
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