Josh Ozersky, a rabble-rousing food writer for Esquire magazine whose prose reflected the pleasures and excesses of his eating adventures, was found dead Monday at a hotel on Chicago’s Near North Side, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Ozersky, 47, was a native of Kendall, living there until he was 12. He returned to South Florida in February for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where he hosted Meatopia, a celebration of carnivorous eating.
“The first restaurant I fell in love with was Lila’s, which was on Calle Ocho ... in Westchester,” Ozersky told the Miami Herald last year. “Just thinking about that toasted bread with margarine on it, the palomilla steak, the flan. Those things are the true soul of growing up in Miami, I think.”
Ozersky had recently moved to Portland, Oregon, and was in Chicago for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards gala; he was on the awards committee and had previously won a Beard honor. He was pronounced dead at 11:40 a.m. Monday at the Conrad Chicago Hotel, 521 N. Rush St., according to the medical examiner’s office.
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Ozersky was a writer unafraid to tackle old guards, unapologetic for his strong opinions on subjects from bourbon to steak. But Ozersky also wrote about himself and his family with a vulnerability not often seen in contemporary food writing.
He was equally as unabashed about his love for meat.
“He was an advocate for maximalist food. He loved meat, and he saw great meat-cookery as the ultimate expression of culinary culture,” said John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and noted food writer who attended Monday’s Beard awards.
“There was an absurdist taint to it, but there was a genuine celebration in his work, and through the work at his event Meatopia, he found a mechanism to tell his story. And he told it really well. He was a really good writer,” Edge said. “He bared his soul through writing about food and set a standard for that sort of writing. Everything he did was overwrought and purposefully so. He didn’t apologize for that. He wore his emotion and love of food on his sleeve.”
Ozersky had been a frequent contributor to Time, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and a number of other publications. He also wrote The Hamburger: A History (2008) and Meat Me In Manhattan: A Carnivore’s Guide to New York City (2003). and was the founding editor of New York Magazine’s food blog, Grub Street, plus a winner of the James Beard Award.
Kat Kinsman, the editor of the food website Tasting Table, said she last saw Ozersky Sunday afternoon at the hotel they shared.
“He just liked what he liked so much, and probably a bit louder than anybody else,” Kinsman said. “He was not afraid to make waves.”
Michael Russell, a food critic at The Oregonian in Portland, said he and Ozersky had become better acquainted after Ozersky’s recent move to the city. They had even been discussing a time to grab a burger together sometime after Ozersky returned to Portland.
“I would say that his time out here was too short, but he had already made a lot of friends in the chef and food writer communities and had eaten his way through a scary number of our best restaurants.”
Ozersky’s body will be examined Tuesday, according to the medical examiner’s office. A cause of death was not available.
Miami Herald food editor Evan S. Benn contributed to this report.