THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Thank you for your time James. Our traditional opening question, where in the States are you from?
I'm originally from California but have lived most of my adult life (so far, anyway) in New York City.
You've had a really interesting career in publishing and writing. How did that all start out?
I came late to the world of journalism. I studied film in college, and, when I was in my twenties, worked in the film business in Los Angeles. Out of left field, I was offered a job at an alternative newspaper called the LA Weekly as a proofreader and fell in love with the energy and intelligence in the newsroom. I soon made a career change and moved to New York and became a fulltime editor and writer, first at the Village Voice and Vogue, and later at Saveur.
How did food and cooking fit into life for you?
My dad was a fantastic home cook who introduced me to fine dining as a child. He taught me how to be aware of my palate — what tasted correct, what didn't. In my youth I had the pleasure of sampling all sorts of delicious foods, and later became interested in cooking, especially after I started traveling around the world. It was only natural that my career as journalist would dovetail with my lifelong interest in food, I suppose.
On your website you describe yourself as a 'Food Traveler.' What tips do you have for fellow traveling Americans on eating out and finding local cuisine when abroad?
Researching where to eat on the Internet can be useful, but nothing can compare to the special experience of stumbling onto a rewarding meal in a place you didn't expect just by using your own instincts. I always encourage people to put down their smartphones and just start walking. Markets are usually an excellent place to start, so you can get a sense of what you should order by seeing ingredients in context and which are truly in season.
Your upcoming book series is called World Food, and the first book in it is about the cuisine of Mexico City. Why did you choose to focus on Mexican food for this title?
Mexico was the first place I ever traveled outside of the United States — I was 17 and my dad and I went on a three-week road trip from New Orleans, where he lived, all the way to the Guatemala border. That trip and the delicious foods we ate along the way changed my life. I wanted the first book in the World Food series to honor the sense of excitement and discovery I experienced back then.
What's your favorite recipe from the book?
The grilled tomato and green chile salsa — it's a classic, easy-to-make table condiment that you can eat with all sorts of dishes, even scrambled eggs. What sets it apart from other salsas is the way the vegetables are grilled until nearly charred before they're ground — the charring gives the dish remarkable depth and deliciousness. I'll be teaching it in the upcoming class.
How did your Zoom cooking masterclass hosted by the American Women's Club of London come about?
My friend Lonnée is on the board of directors, so she gets the credit for getting the class going. Funny trivia: Lonnée and I have known each other since the time we both worked at the LA Weekly and the Village Voice — nearly thirty years ago. We go way back.
What makes Mexican cuisine good for cooking?
If you learn a few basic Mexican techniques, including how to char vegetables, it's an easy, rewarding cuisine to cook. And because it's so emphatically seasoned, Mexican dishes bring flavor and fun and color to the table in a way that few others do.
What do you hope students tuning in to the class take away from the experience?
Hopefully, students will gain a basic understanding of a few easy, classic Mexican techniques that they'll want to try out again. Also, they'll get a yummy lunch can be expanded to feed more people.
What's your top tip for any newcomer to cooking?
Take inventory a few times before you cook anything to make sure you have all the things you'll need—all the ingredients and knives and bowls, etc. Everything.
Finally, what's the best thing about being James Oseland?
Life has frequently presented me with the opportunity to eat really good chocolate—for that I'm very grateful!
James' Mexican Cooking Masterclass, hosted by the American Women's Club of London, takes place on Tuesday June 23rd, from 6pm to 7:30pm BST. To take part, use the code TheAM2020 to register at https://awclondon.wildapricot.org/event-3849837 James' book, World Food: Mexico City, is available to Pre-order Now.
For more details on the American Women's Club of London, go to awclondon.org
Essential Weekly Reads for Overseas Americans. Free