Every day, food editor Josh Ozersky is dealing with an entity that needs to be constantly fed: the New York magazine website. The acclaimed publication, which won five National Magazine Awards last year alone, requires him to take an accurate pulse of the food industry or at least offer helpful insight on where to fashionably dine on a particular Gotham night. Sometimes, surprisingly, Ozersky barely has time to eat.
“Every day I wake up at 7 and start looking at what’s on the Internet that readers would want to know about,” he says. “I’ll write something from home, get dressed and head into the office. I’ll go the whole day without taking lunch. Many of the posts when I’m there will be news stories, sprinkled with worthy slideshows or features on gastronomy.”
Other pieces may focus on specialty equipment, profiles of young chefs or accounts of what a New York celebrity ate that week.
Ozersky, who received a master’s degree from Notre Dame in 1996, admits that the constant need of the site, on which he started work in June 2006, is harrowing but the rush can be a high.
“It’s a constant hunt,” he says. “I’ve been on a roll though! I just broke three huge stories. One was about [chef] Tom Colicchio doing his own small restaurant. . . . I always have a lot of sources—some are anonymous, some not.” Even though his computer shuts down by 5 or 6 p.m., his work day doesn’t. Now he can finally eat.
“I’ll go to at least one to three restaurants a night,” he says. “A big part of my job is getting information from chefs, and that means keeping a certain group of restaurants in constant rotation.” Those include such eatery legends as Gramercy Tavern, Alto and Chinatown Brasserie. He has a group of foodies who will accompany him in varying numbers. “Call it the ‘cutlet club,’” he says laughing. “The dozen insiders that I go out with include Mike Colameco of a radio show called ‘Food Talk’ and Abbe Benson, who works for the Institute of Culinary Education.”
When the night is done, he heads to the solitude of his Brooklyn apartment. “I’m falling asleep in a cab, and it’s midnight,” the 41-year-old says. “Then I get up and do it again.”
Late nights run in the family. His father was an Atlantic City casino employee, a profession that offered young Josh the rare distinction of growing up with the crooning of Sinatra and the comedy of Cosby, not on television but on a sparkling stage in front of him while his father worked an endless shift. “We were just another family on the lower side of middle class,” says Ozersky.
He was only 14 when his mother died, leaving a space he learned to fill with words. “I wanted to be a famous newspaper columnist like Pete Hamill,” he says. “Fiction never appealed to me. I wanted to be a voice that had something to say about what was happening now.”
What happened in the past also has its appeal. Ozerksy is a cultural historian whose books include Archie Bunker’s America. He recently delved into the most American of institutions: the hamburger. “When I wrote The Hamburger it wasn’t really about a burger but about the history of our country during its time,” he says. “I find when you try to write on whole decades you’ll miss a lot. When you instead focus on one subject from a time period, we learn about many other things surrounding it.”
One chapter Ozersky particular likes is about McDonald’s. “Critics focus on the negatives of the company, but it really is the best success story our country has. . . . How could a company with no money and a hamburger stand open hundreds of restaurants the way they did? It’s a blueprint for success.”
Mark Crispin Miller, editor of the book, which is part of a Yale series called Icons of America, believes Ozerksy’s strength is his ability to be both academic and entertaining. “Josh is one of the few writers out there,” he says, “who knows how to broach complicated subjects in a vivid way yet keeps it in a language that the general public can understand. His work lets everyone in.”
Ozersky says New Yorkers eat with a passion no other brood can match. He traces his own well-seasoned palate to an encounter with fast food. “I always had an analytic bent on what I was eating,” he says with a chuckle. “I think it started when I was a kid with the Big Plain, a plain Whopper from Burger King. I started putting fries on the sandwich because it was too unadorned. Most kids don’t think like that.”
He concedes it’s a miracle he’s not morbidly obese, since sampling is a must for his occupation. “I don’t exercise a lot besides running to the coffee machine like a madman,” Ozersky says. “But I’m always worried about my next story. You’d be amazed how anxiety can burn off the calories.”
Eric Butterman previously contributed profiles of directors Tony Bill and M. Clay Adams for this magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.