Top Chef Masters’ James Oseland: Best and Worst Dishes, Gael’s Hats, and More


James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine, author of Cradle of Flavor, and a judge on Top Chef Masters, which kicks off its final, champion round tonight. (Oseland was also an editor at Sassy, forever endearing himself to a certain set of youngish women.)

In anticipation of the start of the TCM finals, we chatted with Oseland about special moments with Gael Greene and her hats, the fact that panna cotta should not feel like breasts, and an unfortunate incident involving granola bars and American cheese.

What’s the very best single dish that you ate on the episodes that have aired so far?

Easy. It’s a dish you didn’t actually see Gael or Jay or Kelly or myself eat: Rick Bayless’s rack of lamb with pasilla chiles and mission figs and a side of refried black beans, on episode seven. We got a sampling of it before the final elimination challenge and it was mind-bendingly delicious.

Aside from dishes that never actually made it to the plate, what’s the single worst dish you ate on episodes aired so far?

Another dish you didn’t see me eat: A 2 o’clock-in-the-morning sandwich I concocted for myself on a break from the craft-services table on the set. It was made out of two granola bars and some individually wrapped American cheese. I don’t know what I was thinking.

What, exactly, is the proper texture for panna cotta?

Breasts? Nah. More like the best silken, milky pudding you’ve ever tasted–like, well, a proper panna cotta.

Does Gael Greene ever take her hat off?

Often, but usually only when we are alone together, sharing a special moment. Sometimes, if I ask nicely, she lets me wear it.

Does TV food criticism, as a visual medium, demand that you give more importance to the look of a dish? Was there a dish that tasted good but which just didn’t look appetizing enough?

Never. Ever. Sure, it’s a bonus if a dish is beautiful to look at–like some of Nils Noren’s gem-like dishes in the cocktail-party challenge–but what counts the most, always, is how the dish tastes.

Since you’re tasting food from East Coast, Southern, Midwestern, and West Coast chefs side-by-side, are there attributes that strike you as regionally typical? Can you identify cooking styles or temperaments that seem particularly characteristic of certain regions?

No, not really. Sorry.

How much does what we see on TV resemble what actually happened?

Unless Magical Elves–the production company–is getting away with some secret computer animation that I don’t know about, everything you see IS what actually happened.