James Oseland on the making of Saveur's The Way We Cook

How did SAVEUR's The Way We Cook: Portraits from Around the World come to be?
Saveur's The Way We CookThis book has been one big labor of love for the folks who've worked on it, from SAVEUR's editorial staff, to the contributing photographers, to our publishers Weldon Owen who helped put it all together. We combed through about 300,000 images from the magazine's archive-all of which we felt HAD to make it into the collection-and distilled that enormous stack down to a few hundred truly exceptional images, which came together to create the visual narrative of the final book. For me, it was pretty incredible to sift through the SAVEUR archives and take in the full scope of our best work. It made me appreciate the magazine's commitment from day one to celebrating everyday cooking, and prioritizing that sort of culinary intimacy over any cutting-edge trends of the moment. What became very clear very quickly as we were putting it together was that this is a book that pays homage to real food made by real people-I've read through it a hundred times, and it's still a pleasure to turn its pages and see people's stories unfold. I think what anyone would feel walking away from this book is a sense of how similar we are to one another, no matter who or where we are-we all have to eat! And the ritual of sitting down at a communal table and sharing food, food that's been thoughtfully prepared, is a universal pastime.

What's one thing you've learned about "living food-first" while traveling the world?
The biggest thing I've discovered is that good food is everywhere. Every time I travel, I find that the food I eat reflects exactly where I am, whether it's a neighborhood or a city or a country, or an international blending of cultures and attitudes. I certainly am opinionated about what tastes good to me (it's pretty much a job requirement as a judge on Top Chef Masters), but the more open-minded I am about trying new things, the more authentic culinary experience I enjoy. To discover, you have to be ready to explore and take risks. It's a mindset that has served me well, and particularly influenced the way I prepare food that originates in Southeast Asia, where I lived for some time, and where the culinary vocabulary is different from the traditional American way of cooking and eating.

Do you have any stand-out recipes in The Way We Cook?
One of my ultimate comfort meals, one I make for myself frequently, is a plate of sautéed wild greens topped with a fried egg, a dish I first tried on a trip to northern Greece-you'll find the recipe on page 235 of the book. When I was handed a plate with freshly-picked greens sauteed in a bit of olive oil with a pinch of salt and a fried egg on top, I thought: this just might be the best meal ever. Don't forget to toast a hunk of country-style bread to go alongside the dish.

What was the first thing you ever made from scratch?
When I was about eight or nine years old, I was watching Julia Child whip up a caesar salad with her usual aplomb, and I was so inspired that I got busy in my own kitchen, chopping and mixing. It was so exhilarating to be the creator of my own meal, to successfully combine flavors and textures, and in that moment, I knew I was going to have a life-long love for cooking.

So given your love of cooking, why did you pursue a career in food writing and editing instead of becoming a chef?
I've always been obsessed with taking pictures. Even in my teens, I toted around this old clunky Bolex 16mm camera, and would photograph a scene one frame at a time in stop motion. I'm a very visual thinker. I also didn't want to corrupt my love of cooking, to commercialize it by doing it for a living. I write, but I also love the refinement of editing-adding richness to text by editing it down to its essence is its own kind of thrill for me. I feel lucky to have fallen into a career where I get to do quite a bit of all the things I love as a person fundamentally interested in the world of food.

James Oseland

James Oseland, the Editor-in-Chief of SAVEUR and judge on the Bravo television show Top Chef Masters, brings the vision that garnered SAVEUR over 25 awards, including five James Beard Awards, to the book. The Way We Cookbuilds on the success from his previous books, SAVEUR The New Comfort Food: Home Cooking from Around the World and the James Beard Award-winning cookbook Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, which was named one of the best books of 2006 by Time Asia, the New York Times, Good Morning America, and others. 

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