Our Food coverage this week is dedicated to Jonathan Gold, who died on July 21 last year. We populated it mostly with the late restaurant critic’s words because his words were the best. We wish we could have made a hologram of him to eat with too. Maybe next year.
‘He was the city and the city was him’
Los Angeles Times Food Editor Peter Meehan remembers his friend Jonathan Gold.
I miss him. I bet you miss him too. But take a moment to read through and remember. The beauty of words and ideas is that they can’t be knocked down or paved over. They can be built upon though: They are there forever, for us, for whenever we need them.
Spinning gold out of Nothingness
Spelunking through the caverns of copy that Gold filed is a pleasure all its own. But which words of his to put on pages we print every week?
What about his writing on the Rodney King riots? His original piece from L.A. Weekly in 1992 is raw and powerful; his revisitation of it for The Times 20 years later shows how some of the city’s wounds had begun to heal.
What about the reviews for which he won his 2007 Pulitzer? Or some choice cuts from his 2000 book, “Counter Intelligence,” a collection of his criticism that was the decoder ring to the city for a generation of eaters?
Ultimately, I selected a more ramshackle trio of stories: an L.A. Times review of a restaurant called Nothingness from 2017; a Times music piece from the early ‘90s; and an essay about a painting in Pasadena from the time in between, stolen from the pages of Slake, a literary magazine his wife, Laurie Ochoa, edited.
These three pieces of writing show how regardless of the topic — are there any more less-connected things than Zubarán paintings, EPMD, Sartre and Sichuan food? — or the era, Gold wrote in a way that welcomed you into the shallow end of the pool and led you out to the depths.
Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633
I could call out the precise and evocative way Gold writes about 17th century painted light with the same fluency he does the pungency of a Korean stew, or note how all the foreplay of nipples and saint’s robes builds up to one of the finer, least expected and most delightful kickers I’ve ever read. But instead: Just dive in and enjoy.
Business as Usual
Back before he was Mr. Pulitzer Prize-winning food god guy, what was Jonathan Gold doing? Reporting on Public Enemy (and writing other, bigger, more hugely influential pieces about popular music for this paper, Spin and the Weekly.)
Despite being a tall red-headed weirdo who had dabbled in performance art and played avant garde cello, Gold could surf cultures fluently enough to sit in a hotel room, giggling with EPMD at the height of the group’s hit-making powers. Also the casual scene-setting excellence of Tone Loc’s role in the story kills me.
Man bites taco
This is an old saw, a bit of a classic, about Tito’s Tacos in Culver City. I include it because I strongly disliked Tito’s after my first visit there. But then I went back and read this piece and I swear his words are like a spell: I will go back to Tito’s. I will check my uppity food-person proclivities at the door. I will see it as a conduit between past and present, as a part of the city as vital as many others. And I probably still won’t like the tacos, but that is beside the point — and that was Jonathan’s point. Sometimes restaurants are just the physical incarnation of the story of a city.
If I had my druthers, we’d have contracted with a place that prints telephone books and just put out every damn word the guy ever wrote. Since I didn’t think of that until I was typing this, we built a wall of words to fill a page of the paper — a thicket of the sort of sometimes head-spinning cultural references Gold could drop in the middle of a restaurant review like no one else.
Chicken à la Gold
Jonathan was best known as an eater, but he was a cook too. When I polled his friends, one thing many of them noted was that when he threw a party, he was usually serving up fried chicken.