Last night, while keeping up with the James Beard Foundation Awards tag on social media I learned of the passing of food writer Josh Ozersky
. At 47, Ozersky had cut a trail for online food writers and lovers of all things meat. First by launching Grub Street (for which he earned a James Beard Foundation Award), and also while launching Meatopia, an ode to all things carnivorous held in New York. The event later grew to include the U.K. and most surprisingly, San Antonio.
Held in November 2-3, 2013, the event brought together chefs from across the state and nation to honor the best meats Texas had to offer, as curated by Ozersky himself.
Days before the event, I had opportunity to chat with Ozersky about his love of meat, his fondness for Tim Rattray's care of vegetables at The Granary 'Cue & Brew
and why he chose San Antonio as one of the Meatopia locations. He had an unabashed sense of self, which came through even in those few minutes over the phone. Here's that transcription that ran October 29, 2013
When did the meat love affair begin?
Ozersky: I was a solitary and unhappy child who found in meat the only solace and companion that made life bearable for me. Meat was not just my imaginary friend, it eventually morphed into girlfriend in my 20s and wife in my 30s.
I can’t tell if you’re joking…
Neither can I.
What did you find so appealing about it?
Ozersky: There’s something visually satisfying about meat, you know how they’d say that lonely women would eat chocolate? Well, lonely children named Josh Ozersky would eat meat because it mimicked the feeling of being happy. Essentially I self-medicated with meat and in the process learned about it. It served me well as literary fodder and as a mood elevator.
What was the catalyst for bringing Meatopia to SA?
Ozersky: There were really two catalysts, both necessary and powerful. I would never have been truly fulfilled without doing an event in Texas. It’s a beef state. We were shopping different places to do it and as you might imagine someone from out of town that doesn’t know much about Texas, my thoughts went to Dallas, Austin. I had the good fortune to be invited to a tamale festival at the Pearl and was so struck. It’s a beautiful place, vigorous, it was the perfect partner for the Texas event I had long dreamed of. I had expected to go there and eat Tex-Mex food, instead I had what I still think is the only modernist barbecue (from The Granary), and seafood (from Sandbar) in San Antonio, which was the last thing I expected to find. I was introduced to exotic food produced at Nao that I had never been exposed to. There’s a depth of diversity and power to the restaurants of the Pearl. I was of the mentality that the only good food in Texas was in Austin…
Would you say that’s turned you into an advocate for the city?
Ozersky: I’ve become a de facto champion of the city within the food media community in New York, which don’t think of San Antonio except in terms of the Alamo. They might ask, “What’s the Riverwalk or there’s a SeaWorld in San Antonio?” I got to see the beautiful parts as I became friends with Elizabeth Fauerso of the Pearl and I came to appreciate it. For a food writer to discover a great city, was a great coup for me.
What part did Tim Rattray play in your decision?
Ozersky: I think Tim opened my eyes to how special the place was. Nao was obviously something I’ve never experienced…I had been to steakhouses, seafood places, but The Granary opened my eyes to find a restaurant that was so original and I felt it was significant on a national level. He’s not the only one in town that’s a great chef, but to my knowledge (he’s) the only modernist chef. His work wouldn’t have happened in a place like Austin with such a strong barbecue tradition. Tim showed me there was an opportunity to do things in San Antonio that are new. Texas is very culturally conservative, they like to do events with strong Texas roots, and powerful, regional traditions. If Tim could do something that original at Pearl, I could too.
What dish set him apart for you?
Ozersky: The cauliflower. His beef clod is incredible, the pastrami beef rib is amazing, but his specialties blew me away. The fact that someone could do a vegetable dish that I could be impressed by made me rethink how I thought of barbecue. The Granary has absolutely A+++ ribs and pulled pork…the fact that he could make standard barbecue comparable to Kreutz or Aaron Franklin, or some great restaurants in the deep south, really woke me up in a way that might not have been otherwise.
What should people know about the event before heading there?
Ozersky: The best part of Meatopia is that it’s a true culinary event, the only one I know of organized by a food person as opposed to a marketing event.
How did you settle on the chefs?
Ozersky: I decided most had to be Texas chefs. You don’t have to come to Meatopia to have great barbecue, this isn’t just barbecue. Meatopia shows people things they’ve never eaten, parts of the animal or ethnic traditions.
What dish are you most looking forward to?
Ozersky: I won’t pick a favorite, but Andrew Weissman has something lined up that’s so complicated and ambitions and original, that’s something that’s so in my wheelhouse. I’m excited to have Jesse Griffiths (of Dai Due in Austin) braise doves.
Any last need-to-knows?
I know that Meatopia is something that a lot of people have never been to or have a frame of reference for, but I would really, really urge…even it if costs more than food events, you’ll eat so many different things you’ve never had before. It’s a special experience. I urge them to take a chance I’m taking on them and give Meatopia a shot. It’s an all you can eat, best meat in the world, cooked by a dream team of chefs (event). If you consider yourself a serious carnivore, it would be worth it.