James Oseland On Top Chef Masters @Saveur

Saveur magazine editor-in-chief, James Oseland has returned as a judge of Season 3 of Top Chef Masters on Bravo. The former editor for Vogue, Organic Style, Sassy, the Village Voice, and Mademoiselle will share his opinion on the meals prepared by some of America’s celebrated chefs.

According to James, it was an easy decision to return to the series. “It’s just such an amazing wonderful gig to have gotten and to be asked back to do the third season was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he told Daedrian McNaughton in an interview.

“Top Chef Masters” pits 12 world-renowned chefs against each other to see how well they fare in fierce culinary competition. Each week will whittle down the chefs until the finale where one winner is crowned “Top Chef Master” and receive the grand prize of $100,000 for the charity of their choice.  With so much money at stake, the chefs are bringing more than their knives to the table; they’re bringing their egos and stirring up the drama.  The chefs must face off in some of the most difficult challenges we’ve seen thus far – including the infamous restaurant wars – and they’re serving up food for some master entertainers and celebrity guest judges including: Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, pop/rock group Maroon 5 and pop sensation Kelis, among others.

Top Chef Masters” airs on Bravo every Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

What peaked your interest to return for season three as judge?

James Oseland: I had done the previous two seasons of Top Chef Masters. And sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s just such, such an amazing wonderful gig to have gotten and to, you know, being asked back to do the third season was just probably one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make because it had been such a joy and indeed making this for a third season was also such a joy. It’s just an incredible gig. And I mean I feel so, so incredibly lucky to have gotten this gig not just those two times but now even this third time. I mean what a blessing.

It must have been a challenge for you to judge all these celebrated chefs. What was the most difficult for you?

James Oseland: I mean the hardest part is eliminating people. I mean it’s just – it’s actually – It’s actually a gut retching process. I mean there are times when you genuinely, like no joke, have to push back the tears because it’s just – it’s very, very hard. All of the contestants in their own right are brilliant cooks and in many instances they have done just such exquisite work that it actually physically hurts to say goodbye to somebody – genuinely.

What is your take on the night crawlers episode?

James Oseland: Where do you buy night crawlers? I don’t think they have those at the SafeWay or the Whole Foods. Where was the food source? I’m a little scared. I’ve eaten insects in various parts of the world but having seen that footage too, I think the thing that just kind of personally flipped me out was the fact that they weren’t dead. They were like a lot of those critters were moving around.  When they hit your mouth, I don’t think necessarily they were still squirming. They’d been cooked but when they came into the kitchen as basically raw ingredients, they were really raw ingredients.

Are you loving this season’s Top Chef Allstars?

James Oseland: Absolutely.  We’re not going to go on record but  I would say oh my God. What an awesome season. It is just – oh my God! It is so good. It is just so good. It is just like the best Top Chef yet. It’s a knockout.

How your experience this season differed from the other seasons and what made it stand out for you?

James Oseland: It’s a completely awesome season. I think that the format switch-up that was done with not doing the tournament style, the four and the four and the four on those first, on the first half of the series, really did make a very profound difference to what the chefs were cooking, how they interrelated with each other, how they just were involved with the whole greater process.  I think that the chefs ultimately became more comfortable because we were giving them the chance over the course of multiple episodes to become more comfortable; to get familiar with the kitchen, to know where the salt was kept, to know that even for instance that the kind of salt that’s used in the Top Chef Masters Kitchen is a course grained kosher salt versus like a really more fine milled kosher salt so we weren’t tasting food that was like suddenly like (ulk) – totally aggressively awfully salty. Whereas on the first two seasons, a lot of times it was kind of – honestly, it was kind of tricky I felt especially from where I was sitting for the chefs over the first two – over the – the chefs that were in those tournament rounds, it was like it was really hard to get a sense of who they were because they were in so many respects just sort of really struggling with the sort of basic fundamentals of cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I know how I feel if I’m not cooking in my own kitchen. Say if I’m in Curtis’ kitchen or Ruth’s kitchen or your kitchen. I’m kind of at sea a little bit but I think that this season really gave these guys the opportunity to really become more comfortable in their skins and show us truly the amazing cooking that they are capable of and that was a real joy to be sitting – to be on the receiving end of that and to get to know, also as we were talking about a few beats ago, to get to know their personalities and to see – to – what a great thrill it is to be able to say identify one chef and know oh, this is chef so and so’s dish. I can feel it. The way that’s spiced, the way these carrots are julienned. It’s just so, so interesting and cool.

How was your experience interacting with the celebrity judges ?

James Oseland: The thing that really blew me away about Christina Hendricks was what we learned in the course of sharing this really gorgeous meal with them is that she and her husband, her husband was there as well, are serious cooks. I mean they’re not gobblers. They’re like serious, serious cooks. I mean we were talking like serious cooking technique and serious dishes that they’ve eaten and that they were going to cook even that weekend. I mean that was just a complete revelation. I mean who knew. You wouldn’t have necessarily connected those dots but how wonderful was that.  And the amazing contestants on America’s Biggest Loser too. Who are celebrities in their own right. That was just one of my just absolute, total, hands down favorite meals. And it was a real – it was just a real treat to eat with these guys and hear their stories too. It was really, really touching and just amazing and gives you this extra layer of consciousness about what you’re doing that it’s not just like this gorge fest but they’re for a lot of people, there’s a lot of consciousness has to go into the act of eating and so that was just – I thought that was a real gift.

Have you had a pick for who you thought was going to win during that first episode and surprised by the results at the end of the season?

James Oseland:  The answer that I can just really sort of safely say is yes and no. One of the funnest things about doing Top Chef Masters – being on Top Chef Masters as a judge is that in a way you’re kind of just like the viewer at home watching the season. And you’re kind of dying to know who’s going to win and who’s going to make it to the final round. You just – you know, inquiring minds want to know. And so there’s – you want – of course you want and you will remain always in a egalitarian and fair judge open to each and every episode’s particular challenge or challenges but, of course, in your mind you’re like I wonder if it’s going to be so and so. Oh my God. I have a feeling it’s going to be so and so. Except usually I just kind of keep it to myself and then I’m kind of doing like a kind of internal wagering but then just as quickly as I’ve done that internally wagering, I try and like shut off that switch because I just want to be there and experiencing every single dish that each contestant is preparing. But you know it’s just like you, the viewer, when you’re watching the first episode. You’re like I bet it’s going to be so and so. I know it is. I’ll bet you. I’ll bet you. I’ll bet you. Just by default, I kind of go through my own sort of similar deal where I’m like you know I have a really strong feeling that it’s going to be so and so but usually I’m never, ever right.

Whose opinion do you value more; fellow chefs or a food critic?

James Oseland: I think that we as critics we’re also cooks and we tend to know – I wouldn’t say necessarily a chef’s level of knowledge or have a chef’s level of knowledge about cooking but we also factor into our reaction to a particular dish, concerns like I wonder what happened with the technique here. I feel in my gut that probably the oil was a little too hot or this protein that was added maybe was a little too cold and thus this didn’t work out that way. I mean it didn’t work out the way it should in the final dish. And you’re always trying to kind of like battle that thing in your mind that’s like totally falling in love with a particular dish or a particular part of a dish and still retain that openness so you can really, really examine it as – in an open and egalitarian away as possible.We take our jobs really seriously. We’re never, ever, ever out to hang anybody. We feel incredibly lucky to have the jobs that we do have and we always strive to maintain the completely highest, cleanest standard possible.

What will your wardrobe look like this season?

James Oseland: There are yet more cardigans. There are yet more bright and hopefully I say this with great optimism fabulous cardigans. And I’m also as we speak right now, I am wearing this sweater. A V-neck that I wore on the show. It’s kind of like a clown red basically.

How many pairs of glasses?

James Oseland: Just one pair of glasses that I had just bought actually in Portland, Oregon about a week before we started taping the show at this like crazy, wonderful old vintage glassware shop in Portland. But I’m just so happy that someone is aware that I do put a little bit of consciousness into what I put on not only on the show but in life and probably Ruth was probably witness to me like trying on like at least eight different outfits before a particular episode. What do you think of this one? Is this one okay? No, but that’s going to clash. Am I going to look stupid if I wear that? But whatever. But I am just so honored and touched and flattered that you noticed that.

Did you gain any weight while filming?

James Oseland: We didn’t lose weight though. It’s the Top Chef Masters 20. That’s what it is.

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