The murmurs began at around 7 p.m. at the James Beard Awards. Two well-known journalists sidled up to me in the press room and asked me if I had heard about Josh Ozersky. "Did he die?" I asked one. He said that that's what he had heard.
On the one hand I was in shock. Josh was as hard an eater as I knew. He never met a slab of meat he didn't like and seemed allergic to vegetables and fruit. But he was a young man of 47 who was finally living his dream: A house in Portland, Oregon, a great gig at Esquire, and the proliferation of his Meatopia festival, which is just what it sounds like.
Surely he wouldn't leave us now on the night of the James Beard Awards, on a cool but lovely night in Chicago. One young journalist told me he had been eating and drinking with Josh the night before. The murmurs continued throughout the evening, but no one wanted to break the news without confirmation. Then Pete Wells tweeted that Josh had indeed been found dead in his hotel room.
We read all the time about musicians and artists who struggle through drink, drugs, and disease, who leave this earth much too soon. But we rarely read about a young, talented food writer who leaves us well before his time. And that's just what happened to Josh.
Josh was, among everything else, determined to live his life on his own terms. That meant identifying, and at times eviscerating, the fundamental essence of food, food trends, and its personalities. His essay on his father was a great example of that. And who else but Josh would dare to question the pedestals that food world icons stood upon?
Josh pulled no punches in those pieces and so many others. The same was true when he turned his wit on himself. Take a look at his perspective on his early Grub Street days to see what I mean—an intellect unafraid to implicate himself in the issues he analyzed. And if you think he was all sass, consider the warmth he brought to sharing his life lessons with younger writers.
Josh had the power to infuriate me one moment and totally endear himself to me the next. That's the power of good writing. He brought an irreplaceable voice to our food culture—a passionate, often artistic approach to serious eating, no matter what form it came in.
I'll miss that appreciation and determination. And I'll miss his words. Food journalism lost a true original yesterday, and we have precious few of those.