FROM THE ARCHIVES | JAY RAYNER ON JOSH OZERSKY

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

The Meatopian, Meatopia’s on-site newsletter available exclusively on-site during the festival each year, is packed with delicious content from the years gone by. In this series, we’re diving into our digital time-machine to serve up some of the best reads from the Meatopian archives.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of his sad and sudden demise, we’re re-reading this piece from the 2015 edition of The Meatopian about our brother, partner and founding father Josh Ozerksy.

Josh and his alter-ego ‘Mr. Cutlets’ tragically died aged 47 on 4th May 2015 while visiting Chicago for the James Beard Awards, but his legacy lives on at Tobacco Dock, London each year in the firepits of Meatopia. Read on as celebrated food critic Jay Rayner reflects on the life of his friend, colleague and fellow carnivore.

A tribute to the big man: Jay Rayner on Josh Ozersky

From The Meatopian, 2015

Josh Ozersky was a real mensch, which is one of those terms diminished by translation. Leo Rosten, the great codifier of Yiddish, said it meant someone of ‘noble character’, and that will stand for Josh. He was a big man in all senses of the word and if he was on your side, life was good. I would like to claim clear memories of the first time we met in person, but I can’t, because I had already met him online in the years before and his writerly voice was so defined and muscular, so very much itself, that I felt I know him long before we shook, meaty hand to hand.

Today the world of online food writing, particularly in New York, is so established it’s easy to assume it was always there. But it would have been nothing without Josh who, through Grub Street, the blog of New York MAgazine, found a way to reframe American food writing. Too much of it was (and sadly, remains), effete, and sodden with an emotionally incontinent language of ‘cooking with love’.

Josh was prepared to get down and dirty, to give appetite in its proper voice. In this he owed something of a debt to Anthony Bourdain, but he made it all his own by investigating what he grandly referred to as the food of the ‘American vernacular’: the hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and so on, which are the stock-in-trade of the neighbourhood diners he so loved. His colleague Adam Platt of New York Magazine has described him as a Damon Runyon-esque character and I can do no better. A serious intellectual he may have been, but he did not float above the world he loved, loftily, but as a restless chronicler, wallowed deep within it.

As one of those North West London Jews who always suspected they might have found a more appropriate life among the godless Jews of New York, I always felt comfortable in Josh OZersky’s company. But then that may have had something to do with his pronounced Anglophilia. A couple of years ago I made a couple of short videos with him for his Underground Eats strand. In one we kvetch at each other about restaurant cliches we hate; in the other he educated me in the food of the American Vernacular.


At the end, lustily and from nowhere, he started singing Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘For he is an Englishman’ over the debris of our lunch. It was ludicrous. It was tuneful. And it was curiously rousing. It’s how I’m going to remember him.

 

Words by Jay Rayner for The Meatopian, 2015. Photograph by Paul Winch-Furness at Meatopia, 2014.