The Chronicle

2015 Gift Guides: A Moment with Natalie James

Natalie James would appear to be living the dream. The L.A.-based writer-photographer and personality behind the food site NJ in LA is an all-around ambassador for the city's burgeoning dining scene; she spends her days "doing tastings all over this city, photographing food for campaigns, and trips out of town to scope out hotels and places under the radar," as she puts it, for her soon-to-relaunch website, Instagram, and Snapchat account (which she says is "where the action is"). She's also an enthusiast of the smoking ritual and plans to get into cooking edibles — of the specially seasoned sort — in 2016.

As fans of James's taste, so to speak, we enlisted her to choose her 10 favorite Tetra items for the last of our 2015 holiday gift guides (shop her picks here). Below, the SoCal native discusses her holiday plans and rolling ritual.

Portrait by Gaea Woods.

How would you describe your sensibility?

Clean. Modern. Esoteric. Athletic. California.

What's inspiring you lately?

My friends are inspiring me more than anything. Every single person in my circle is incredibly talented, positive, and motivate me in immeasurable ways. It is really beautiful to find myself in a place where everyone I love is doing dope shit. I have also been visiting a variety of spiritual spaces as of late, all of them putting important things into perspective, and checking any residual bullshit in my life. Spiritual fitness is crucial to my happiness. I work at being the best person I can be every day that I wake up. Like Khaled preached, don’t play yourself.

What are your holiday plans?

I am spending Christmas with my family and making tamales. There’s no group of people I would rather be with than the James Gang.

What will you be wearing to the season's parties?

The same thing I typically wear: ripped black jeans, a long black shirt, bomber jacket, tennis shoes and some BDSM-inspired jewelry. I feel most sexy when I am comfortable, and that’s the look I always aim to achieve. My most recent sartorial acquisition that has become the light in my life is a limited edition DOPE x 40oz hat paying homage to cinema classic and one of my favorite films, 1998’s The Players Club.

What do you like about living in L.A.?

Access to foods from all over the globe at affordable prices, without a doubt. The food is legit in Los Angeles, for real for real. I feel blessed every day to live here. When I’m not dreaming about what I am going to eat, I am thinking about which mountain, trail, or cave I can explore with friends. Another amazing thing about living in L.A. is how quickly you are transformed into another world within a quick 2 hour drive –Ojai, Los Alamos, and Joshua Tree. I love getting away as much as I love returning.

Where do you like to eat?

Sometimes I think about how many new restaurants I eat at for work. I love it and I am grateful. But time and time again, I end up at the same places, the ones with the most flavors and genuine vibes: Chengdu Taste, Sea Harbor, Tacos Baja Ensenada and Mexican food in Whittier.  

What are you listening to?

Not one day of mine goes by without pressing play on Young Thug. Automatic Man’s 1976 debut album has been in rotation a lot these days; this space rock has been taking me there. KING has dropped new music from their upcoming album, particularly this one jam called “The Greatest” that I cannot get enough of. It’s going to be the perfect track for pool lounging, with a blunt in hand. And of course music by my friend Sunni Colón is always on deck; I cannot wait for his new project to come out. He's so good; don't sleep on his music.

What's your smoking ritual?

It always involves me rolling smokes for my friends. I wrap those trees up in my Wiz Khalifa Loud Pack, which contains filters, raw papers, and a little tray, which all unfolds from a tiny paper contraption. There's even a magnetic closure! Smoking coupled with music is really life-changing; this is my ritual. I have some of my biggest revelations in this state of mind. Pure magic if you want it to be.