Cutty in Southbeach, February 2008
Though we'd been loosely aware of Josh Ozersky — aka Cutty, Cutlets, Mr. Cutlets, and Cizzutty — prior, it wasn't until he was named the launch editor of Grub Street that we really started paying attention. And gently poking fun at the big man. Larger than life, looser and more rabidly passionate about beef than that, dude turned out not to be exactly the thing for Grub, but he did prove to be a serious presence on the party circuit and elsewhere. And, now, two years later, he's out from under Adam Moss' thumb and onto a gig at Citysearch, where he has the gargantuan, possibly Sisyphean, task of getting Barry Diller's local listings play some editorial cred. We sat down with Joshy earlier this week, chatted him up, via IMterview, on what he wants to do with Citysearch, New York, and even touched briefly on his ongoing standoff with David Chang.
Eater: So, you're coming to me today from Citysearch HQ. Is that right, JO?
JO: It is....hey, how do I turn off the sound...I hate these beeps every time we hit send.
Eater: In your preferences somewhere. Let us know when you're sorted.
JO: Got it. Done. Alrighty! Yes, I'm here at the gorgeously postmodern IAC building on the west side highway.
Eater: Gehry-designed, Diller-dominated. Tell us about Citysearch. Where do you want it to be in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years?
JO: Well, Citysearch is already vastly powerful in terms of its traffic -- over two million visitors a week just for New York. But obviously, there hasn't been a single defining voice behind the restaurant coverage. So I want Citysearch's vast force to be gathered behind a single sensibility that New Yorkers can come to know and trust. And I want our blog, when it launches, to have absolute hegemony over its many fine rivals, like Eater and Grub Street.
But it's not just the blog. I'll be writing the editorial reviews, which are more like knowing, thoughtful descriptions, than reviews. And the roundups, which are a big part of the homepage content, will become richer and more interesting -- not because I'm better than the people that were writing them, but just because I'm more steeped in the restaurant world, and because I can devote all my time to working on restaurants. These guys also have to write about hotels, nightlife, shoppping...having me here allows Citysearch to really bring its restaurant coverage to the proverbial next level. And once we we've gotten New York, which is our biggest market, where we want it to be, we can also start developing the restaurant coverage in other cities. My actual title is Senior Editor, Restaurants, so it won't just be New York coverage that I'll be able to expand.
Eater: So, what will be the spirit of your 'single defining voice'? And don't say passion for food.
JO: No, I have a free hand here. Citysearch didn't go to the trouble to bring me in so that they could have me be a mouthpiece for advertisers. They really wanted to make the coverage better, and richer, and more entertaining. The spirit will be...
The spirit will be that of a peripatetic omnivore, a person that loves food, loves cooking, and loves restaurants, and gets around to a lot of them. I want Citysearch's restaurnat coverage to be celebratory; I want it to evoke the food, and also the personalities, that make New York the food city it is; I want to write posts and profiles that can be read ten years from now, or twenty years from now, the way you can read Joe Mitchell's New Yorker pieces, or Dickens' portraits of big Victorian dinners. I'll still try to beat everybody with news, but I want it to be richly literary and featurey and multi-dimensional.
JO: [At Grub Street] I did want to write about the best burgers, and that kind of thing, too. That was one thing I couldn't do, since "Best of" belonged to Rob and Robin. I always had to restrain my impulse to annoint places as the best in town.
Eater: And now you will do this often?
JO: I already started! My first effort for Citysearch was the Best of Citysearch editor's picks, which you were nice enough to link to the other day. Did I mention that I am ecstatic to be here?
Eater: How do you keep these lists from blending into the pack of lists? We're in a universe of infinite lists, food communities, round ups, top xx, worst xx...How do you teach us to care about the one's you're writing?
JO: You have to say why, in a vivid and evocative way...and I think, also, that at this point I've developed a certain level of credibility that I hope separates me out from some other random blogger. But it's all about the writing; it has to be manly and forceful, like my heroes Macaulay, Liebling, and Chesterton...I'm still thinking about that, though...it's a hard question.:-X
Eater: You know Easy Ed Levine is big in the list game.
JO: Yeah, but Easy Ed rarely gets into why he loves the stuff he does. Look at the work that Nick Solares does over at A Hamburger Today. When he likes a burger, you know exactly why and via passionate detail. That lasts a lot longer in your memory than just a list with a few casual superlatives. Which is often all somebody like Ed has time for, given the demands on his time.
Eater: Speaking of Grub Street, how does the Citysearch office compare to Cutlet—I mean Grub Street's?
JO: It's quieter...the NYM magazine office had what Wordsworth called "the murmur of innumerable bees." Here it's very quiet. I haven't quite figured out why. Maybe because there are so many fewer writers. Writers are chatty. Actually, I did most of the talking at the Grub St. office, so that can't be it...
Eater: Despite all the chatter, you did have editors there. Are there things you wanted to say but couldn't?
JO: Right, what a lot of people didn't realize about my work at Grub Street is that it was very mediated. I had three levels of editors above me, and the first of these was someone deputized to line edit my every post, the better to protect me from myself. Given how many posts I was expected to produce, and at what speed, it made my days very stressful. I was constantly being lectured to and chided about basic writing and journalism. I chafed at such treatment! I'm Josh Ozersky! Don't you know who I am?? Seriously, it wasn't so bad. But it added up.
It wasn't so much stuff that I wanted to say and couldn't, as stuff that I didn't want to write about that I had to. One of the reasons I jumped at this opportunity was the chance to decide what gets written about. I didn't want to write about Ko, ad nauseam. I didn't want to try to beat Eater at micro-coverage of Florent closing. I didn't want to try to win the Top Chef gossip wars. I wanted to do things that I thought I could do that, with all due respect, Eater didn't; I didn't want to try to beat my primary rival at his (and her) own particular strengths. Plus, I didn't think Ko or Florent deserved that level of coverage. But my opinion on such lines didn't count; I was told that much explicitly.
Eater: What are you going to miss most about that job?
JO: I'll miss having Daniel Maurer; the guy was a perfect partner for me, resourceful and tireless and skillful. He knew about all the stuff I don't, and was quicker with the pointer posts the editors were so into. He's younger and hipper than I am; I wouldn't know Sasha Petraske if he stood up in my soup. Of course, we have Justine Goodman here to do the nighlife beat, and she's really good. Oh, the other thing about Daniel, and please edit this in, is that he never wanted the spotlight. He was happy to let me be out there taking credit for all of grub street, when in fact he was responsible for a lot of it.
Eater: Safe to assume he's your ideal successor? If you could pick anyone to replace you at Grub, who would it be?
JO: He's not my ideal successor, because his expertise is in nightlife, not in restaurants. And I'm not sure I am that easily replaced; Grub Street, even with all the editing, had a lot of my personality to it...If I was looking to hire someone to replace me for the Grub Street of my own construction, it would be a writer of David Kamp's caliber. Or I should say, the Grub Street of my own dreams.
Eater: Dare to dream, sweet Cutty. Back to Citysearch give us the headline from a post six months from now that you'll be proud of.
JO: "Times, Heeding Citysearch Urging, Abandons Star System." "Genius Chef Discovered in Chinese Mall by Citysearch to Helm New Boulud Restaurant" "City to Outlaw Oversize Hamburgers" "David Chang: Ozersky Really Is the Man"
Eater: What's the deal with you and Chang anyway?
JO: It's a sad situation, since I really like David a lot, and obviously I'm very sympathetic to the way he cooks. I'm still not entirely sure why he loathes me so much...One night I walked into Ssam Bar, and was told in no uncertain terms by Corey Lane and David himself that I was no longer welcome to ever eat in their restaurants again, because they believed that I had mocked them and put them down and "wanted to rub their faces in it." I was shocked. I had been one of the first people to talk up Ssam bar, back when they were selliing "asian burritos" to slim crowds. I was possibly more candid than I should have been about how overhyped I thought David was getting, and even made the mistake of calling him the Setagaya of Soup. I wish I could take that one back, but I stand by everything else, both the praise and the skepticism. But it's weird still. I admire David's work and I'm sure that Ko is a great restaurant experience. And I think David is a very good guy, albeit with an angry side that the public rarely sees.
Eater: Alright, obligatory Chang interlude taken care of. Listman, give us the 3 best burgers in NY right now.
JO: In order: Little Owl, Seymour Burton (available til the 31st at EU), Veselka
Eater: ...the 3 best chefs?
JO: The Ripper [Eric Rippert], Michael White, Vongericthen / Lapico at JG.
Eater: ...top 3 surprises in 2008?
JO: David Chang becoming a global superstar, Gray getting the mitten from Grayz, and A Voce thinking they could exist without Andrew Carmellini
Eater:...top 3 non-chef personalities out there?
JO: Mauro Maccioni, the suavest man in the business; Jimmy Bradley, possibly the coolest guy on the planet; and Steingarten, i.e. the Baron, a decadent aristrocrat born into the wrong century.
Eater:...and, finally, build the unbeatable restaurant.
JO:: The ultimate nuts restaurant would have Michael White working the pasta station, the Ripper on fish, Michael Anthony in charge of vegetables, and Adam Perry Lang working the grill. The meat would all be Nebraska Prime, Brandt, and the burgers La Frieda black label. Paul Grieco would do the wine program, although he would be forbidden from serving sherry, and Johnnie Zs would be the dessert chef. Jim Meehan would work the bar. Mauro and Marisa May would work the front of the house, and the waitresses would all be former personal assistants to Jeffrey Steingarten. As for the room...the chairs would be deep, well cushioned, and vibratory.