Chefs do some things outside of the kitchen. Some of these things are interesting. To chronicle what some of these things are, we'd like to welcome you to a new series of features called "Out of the Kitchen," wherein we'll hang out with chefs (and other interesting food people) outside of their kitchens.[Photos: Joshua David Stein/Eater.com]
James Oseland, bundled up and bright-eyed, met me on a recent Saturday morning in the vestibule of his former apartment building in Williamsburg. Mr. Oseland, who had moved there 16 years ago, had recently returned to the Manhattan fold. "Now," he says, happily, "I can walk to work." Work is, of course, as editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine. His forest green Toyota Tacoma was parked behind Our Lady Of Consolation Church. His partner, Daniel, wants to get rid of the car but Mr. Oseland wishes to keep it for trips such as these. Alas, like most vehicles in the tri-state area that weekend, the truck was snowed in. Together we shoveled the truck free, stopped at a bodega for BBQ Pork Cracklins and something called Bananem chips (lunch) and headed to Jones Beach to stand on ice and sand at the frozen edge of America.
Mr. Oseland negotiated the snow-covered streets with ease. He is a man of secret talents and a catholic past. He is, perhaps, the only editor-in-chief of a major magazine who is able to discuss Crispin Glover, the Germs, seminal underground German filmmaker Rosa von Pronheim and the intricacies of Javanese cooking with equal erudition. It turns out Mr. Oseland's road to Saveur was long and winding, slippery and windy and interesting. We merged onto 278 East and started our journey.
"I was always the food guy," said Mr. Oseland, "no matter what I was doing." In the early seventies, Mr. Oseland was the food guy living in San Francisco, nurtured on a diet of punk music and the vibrant gay culture of the Bay area. Mr. Oseland, though still a sprite, traveled to New York frequently and this bi-coastal experience percolated into the experimental films Mr. Oseland began to make. "I was making these short films where I was practically taping fish scales to the celluloid." An autodidact, Mr. Oseland, who had dropped out of high school, took what we would recognize as a GED and enrolled in The San Francisco Art Institute's film program. "The school was having a post-seventies punk rock crazy go-go moment," said Mr. Oseland, "It was a crazy blast." During this time, too, Mr. Oseland discovered Indonesia, a passion which would eventually result in Cradle of Flavor, his James Beard-winning cookbook. "Indonesia was my France or my Italy," he explained simply.
Though having gained some measure of success as a filmmaker (and a few NEA grants), Mr. Oseland moved to Los Angeles to work, as it were, in Hollywood. During college years, he had befriended Chris Coppola, the brother of Nicholas Cage and nephew of Francis Ford, and thought the two young Turks could take Hollywood by storm. Once there Mr. Oseland acted as a script reader for a major Hollywood agent and honed his craft as thespian and movie writer. "I loved the movies," Mr. Oseland reminisced, as the Fire Island Water Tower came into view. "Where might one find Mr. Oseland, if one so wished?" I asked. "Oh," he said, his eyes squinting into the blinding white of the snow and sky, "there's a movie called Liquid Dreams, which is a sci-fi porny thing I might have starred in." Soon his entire IMDB past tumbled out: "I ghost wrote Guncrazy with Drew Barrymore and I have a brief moment playing a drag queen in prison. I get hit over a head with a shovel." He also played a psychopath in a straight-to-video western called Gunfighter. "I play a psychopath of the plains called Feret."
We arrived in the parking lot of Field 6, during the summer months the cruisey stretch of Jones Beach. Strangely the lot seemed full. "Maybe it's full of winter cruisers," I suggested. "Lots of dicks flapping in the 25 degree air," laughed Mr. Oseland. But when we trekked over snow mounds to the waters edge, we were alone. Mr. Oseland related his tale from Hollywood to New York. It involved stops at the L.A. Weekly, stints as a copy editor at Vibe and Sassy and the Village Voice. "Somewhere," he said, the wind whipping his words away, "I like to think Saveur is the Sassy of the food magazines." We continued to walk over sand marbled with snow. Seashells look sadder in the winter. Then we turned back, fingers and toes frozen, and jumped into the truck. Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" was on WNYC and Mr. Oseland popped open a bag of BBQ Pork Cracklins. Their porky artificial smell filled the cabin. "A revelation," Mr. Oseland whispered, as he ate one. We pointed the truck westerly and drove.