James Oseland is a busy man. When he’s not appearing as a celebrity judge on Top Chef Masters, chances are he can be found in his office editing the next issue of SAVEUR or in his own kitchen, whipping up a tasty meal. Though he’s lived in New York City for years, he rarely orders take-out. In a new project that examines how we eat as well as what we eat, James embarks on a photographic journey observing the world from the kitchen’s point of view.
What are the main themes of SAVEUR‘s The Way We Cook: Portraits from Around the World?
The main theme of The Way We Cook is, obviously, that cooking is a universal act. But the specifics of all that weren’t necessarily apparent right away; they really developed over the course of putting the book together. The entire process was a labor of love: We combed through tens of thousands of images—SAVEUR’s entire 18-year archive, all our best work—and based just on our gut, we distilled those down to a few hundred we felt had to make it into the book. It made me appreciate the tremendous work our photographers who contributed to this project have done over the years, and in addition to the wonderful subjects featured in these pictures, our photographers’ incredible attention to fine detail gives this book a beauty and intimacy that speaks directly to the intensely emotional elements of preparing and sharing food.
But I think the real theme of the book is how fantastically similar we are to one another: ultimately, we all eat to live. Sharing food with loved ones is a universal act, it’s something we all do—both out of necessity, and out of what is essentially an act of social communion. We’re supposedly in an age where connection has never been easier or faster, but I think there is no act more connected than coming together to break bread at a common table.
What do you think about the food wars that often polarize folks into mutually exclusive diets?
Honestly, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of good food out there. Every time I travel, for work or for pleasure, I notice that the world’s food seems to be getting better and more egalitarian. We Americans—myself included—like to make a lot of noise about what tastes great and what’s wildly overrated, but in general, I feel very optimistic about how great food and great cooking are available in every corner of the world, if you take the time to look. And it’s not just about fine dining or regional holes-in-the-wall: I was roadtripping across the U.S. to get to a book tour stop in Sacramento earlier this year, and I stopped in the middle of Utah only to find a vendor selling the most incredible melons I’d ever tasted, in varieties I’d never even heard of. There’s enough good food in this world for everyone to be happy.
What is your favorite recipe in the book?
In keeping with my preference for simple elegance, I’m particularly fond of the wild greens with fried eggs recipe on page 235. It’s a recipe that comes from a trip I took to northern Greece, when I pulled into a tavern for some breakfast (a meal I never skip), and someone handed me a plate with just-picked greens sauteed in a bit of olive oil with a pinch of salt and a fried egg on top. As I ripped a chunk off of a loaf of still-warm bread, I thought to myself: this is the best meal ever. I’ve re-created it many times since, and it’s always fantastic—though it’s never quite recaptured the magic of that moment.
What was the first thing you ever made?
I’ll never forget it: The first thing I ever made was a caesar salad inspired by Julia Child. I was about eight years old, and after the rush of exhilaration I felt in that moment of creation, I knew I was into food and cooking for the long haul.
Are you cooking up any new projects that we should keep our eyes peeled for?
I always have irons in the fire, no matter how busy I get! The next big project I’m tackling is a memoir about my early days living and breathing the punk scene in San Francisco during the 1970s: Jimmy Neurosis. It’s a bit different than The Way We Cook but no less personal. It’s all part of the adventure.
SAVEUR: The Way We Cook—Portraits from Around the World
James Oseland, the Editor-in-Chief of SAVEUR and judge on the Bravo television show Top Chef Masters, brings the vision that garnered SAVEUR over 25 awards, including five James Beard Awards, to the book. The Way We Cook builds on the success from his previous books, SAVEUR: The New Comfort Food—Home Cooking from Around the World and the James Beard Award-winning cookbook Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, which was named one of the best books of 2006 by Time Asia, the New York Times, Good Morning America, and others.