James Oseland took an unconventional route to becoming the editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine. A high school dropout, he eventually enrolled in art school and went on to act in movies and write in Hollywood for several years. But a job as a proofreader at L.A. Weekly sparked his interest in magazine writing and led him to his current career at one of the premier food magazines.
James Oseland, who also judges on Top Chef Masters, has a taste for the exotic. He lived in Asia for years and even released some Malaysian cookbooks. Home in New York, he gets his Malaysian fix at Taste Good in Queens and shops for Malaysian ingredients at McCarren Park Farmer’s Market.
Married–unofficially yet spiritually–to my partner, Daniel.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an oceanographer; in elementary school, a movie director; after that, I had no idea. And I still really don’t.
We hear you used to be a bit of a punk rocker, even dropped out of high school. Do you still have a rebellious streak in you?
Sometimes I go into supermarkets and squeeze loaves of Wonder Bread until they burst. My friend Thor taught me that trick years ago. Is that rebellious? A little, I guess. But it’s a great stress-reliever.
How do you go from high school drop out to editor-in-chief of Saveur?
After going walkabout for a few years, I went to art school, then worked in L.A., in the movie business for about a decade, mostly in screenplay development. At the end of my time in L.A., I got a job as a proofreader at the L.A. Weekly, loved it, then moved to New York to work in magazines.
Rumor has it you acted in films. Any we might’ve seen? Do you still dabble in acting on occasion?
I guess I dabble in a little bit of acting every day at work. I have to wear a lot of hats on the job. As for the films you might have seen, well, I hope you haven’t.
You’ve been on plenty of television shows, including Top Chef Masters. What was that like for you and is that something you want to do more of?
It’s a blast. I’d really like to do more.
What changes have you made since becoming editor-in-chief of Saveur in 2006? What changes would you like to make in the imminent future?
I haven’t really made that many changes to the magazine. The magazine sort of has a soul all its own beyond what a mere editor-in-chief inflict on it.
What do you think is the future of print journalism and how have you used the Internet to increase exposure? Are you readers mostly print, online or both?
Our readers are mostly print. And I think print magazines are here to stay for awhile. There’s something really magical about picking up a flesh-and-blood physical magazine.
You’ve lived in Southeast Asia and authored books about the cuisine, so where do you go for great Southeast Asian cuisines in New York City?
I like Taste Good, in Elmhurst, Queens, for Malaysian food.
As a Williamsburg resident, what do you think of what people are calling “New Brooklyn Cuisine?” Any validity? What are some of your favorite spots in your neighborhood?
I do think there’s validity to that notion. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 16 years and am continually amazed by the evolution of food here. My favorite place—for a number of years—has been Marlow and Sons.
The current Saveur issue features the best food markets around the world. Which New York City markets do you frequent and who are some of your favorite vendors?
The Union Square farmers’ market (of course), and the tiny, postage-stamp farmers’ market near my home in McCarren Park. There’s a family there (sorry, I don’t know their name) from Jersey that, in deep summer, has the most wonderful tomatoes and peppers on Earth.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any more books, television gigs, travel?
All of the above, I hope. I may be traveling to Australia in October, the idea of which excites me to no end. I’ve never been.