James Oseland went from a relatively anonymous journalist to a food celebrity in just one quick Bravo TV season. The editor of Saveur magazine was picked to be a judge on Top Chef Masters (which recently wrapped up its second season of shooting in L.A.), making him famous for his dapper aspect and way with words. Oh, and his food knowledge, of course.
He took some time to speak with Squid Ink about his innate appreciation of world cuisines, why he loves southern California, and his path from high school dropout to LA Weekly proofreader to editor of one of the country's finest food magazines. Oh, and that Top Chef thing.
Squid Ink: So you really dropped out of high school?
James Oseland: I really dropped out of high school. And after recovering from being a punk rock high school dropout, I got a bachelor's in film.
SI: Did you wanted to direct?
JO: It was an experimental film program; we weren't studying George Lucas. But I thought, 'I'm gonna move to L.A. and work in Hollywood! I'll show everyone!'
SI: And then…
JO: I still love the idea of movies, but the idea of growing old in the business just didn't sit all that well with me.
SI: So you switched to journalism, as a copy editor here at the Weekly.
JO: Came in, took the test, and started right away. I fell in love with print journalism at the LA Weekly. Aside from eight months in the high school paper, I had no journalism background.
SI: Did you write about food?
JO: No, but I was a junior Jonathan Gold. I always knew the best places, or what I thought were the best places. I still love La Abeja for breakfast. Food and the making of it and the stories it can tell is a lifelong interest. I grew up in one of those not-typical American family, where food was always a major character in our lives. We'd think nothing of driving 150 miles to go to a restaurant my dad had read about. He was a very good cook, and very active in the kitchen at home. I started following suit in third or fourth grade.
SI: Was the food in L.A. up to par?
JO: L.A. is an eating city. It's a city of food. To my mind, it has America's best food. Not in an exclusive, fancy pants way – though there is amazing luxury dining in L.A. — but it's an all-inclusive food city. From taco trucks to Suzanne Goin to SGV to Little Saigon to the hundreds of pupuseries to El Mercado. There's the quality of ingredients available to you lucky residents, too. L.A.'s food always got me excited. Like Korean sushi that blew my mind.
SI: So many people think Angelenos don't eat.
JO: The people outside of L.A. who don't think it's a food city are the same people who don't think it's an interesting place. But those are the same people who came in for two nights and stayed in a megalopolis hotel in Century City. 'What did you see?' 'I saw the airport and had dinner in West Hollywood! I don't like L.A.!'
SI: What inspired the L.A. issue of Saveur?
JO: It wasn't until taping Top Chef Masters that I was really reminded of how extraordinary the food in L.A. is. I called a couple of editors at Saveur and said, “Oh God, this food that I'm eating! We gotta do an issue!” Whenever I'm in L.A. I'm reminded of how little I know about food.