Josh Ozersky, an esteemed NJM contributor, was an outsize figure in the food world, indeed outsize in every sense—his girth, his personality, his writing, his opinions, his influence on food writing, especially online food writing.
He was known as the Meat Maven, also as Mr. Cutlets, the pseudonym he chose for his uproarious book, Meat Me in Manhattan. Ozersky in 2006 launched Grub Street, the food site of New York Magazine. He created the traveling festival Meatopia; wrote the excellent 2008 book The Hamburger: A History; was a columnist for Time and Esquire; and created, among other things, ozersky.tv, where his energy, charisma and aggressive curiosity about everything edible made for a perpetual moveable feast.
He was found dead Monday morning in Chicago, where he was attending the James Beard Awards. He himself won a 2008 Beard Award for his work on Grub Street.
In 2011, Ozersky—who spent his teenage years in Atlantic City, but was then living in Brooklyn—served as one of the judges in our Great Burger Showdown. In the story I wrote about the competition, in which our panel blind-tasted 10 highly regarded burgers from around New Jersey, here is how I described the Meat Maven:
“Ozersky is a carnivore’s carnivore, built like a linebacker and blessed with a palate as decisive as the swing of a butcher’s cleaver. One bite, maybe two, and he pronounces judgment.”
Here is how Ozersky described what turned out to be the winning burger, from chef Zod Arifai’s Next Door in Montclair:
“This is a perfectly constructed burger,” Ozersky said. “We haven’t had one where the cheese and bun just perfectly complement the burger and create a transparency. Not only that, but look at the crust. It’s perfect mahogany from edge to edge.” Mr. One Bite then gave the ultimate compliment: “I ate more than I needed to. It’s just so easy going down.”
In that same issue, Ozersky wrote an excellent piece about the survival of the homely humble slider, Blue-Collar Burgers.
For our Italian Issue in 2012 Ozersky wrote Masters of “Mutz”, subtitled “Fresh, hand-made mozarella is a treasure, and Jersey Does it Best.”
In a profile I wrote of chef Arifai in 2009, Ozersky had this to say:
“Zod is one of those singular, eccentric, brilliant figures that you occasionally see in the restaurant business. There isn’t another guy quite like him and no other food just like his. He’s the Tom Waits of gastronomy.”
Words that could indeed be applied to Ozersky himself. He was one of a kind, and he gave the food world all he had, which was a ton of passion, conviction, knowledge and dynamic (often argument-inducing) writing.
For a superb appreciation of Ozersky by Time editor James Poniewozik, click here.