The Man Who Ate LA
A tribute to the late Pulitzer-winning Los Angeles writer Mr Jonathan Gold
How can we ever say what the late great writer Mr Jonathan Gold meant to Angelenos, to eaters, drivers, writers... to anyone who’d ever read him, met him, eaten with him, thought aloud with him? How will we measure the weight of his absence, the vacuum where once there were his words, regularly, in his weekly columns for the LA Weekly or The Los Angeles Times, his rich parade of ideas, his piquant prose, revelatory pop culture references, metaphors that made you stop reading, laugh aloud, re-read, and read again? By now, with the heartbroken cascade of writing in memoriam to Mr Gold, who passed away on 21 July, at the age of 57, it would be apparent to even the casual reader the passion he stirred in those who’d read him – the passion of the converted, the initiated.
For all of us converts, our relationship to Mr Gold’s writing was personal. He turned us on, to food, to places in the city, to cities within the city we’d never known, may never know beyond his writing, and we swelled with his gift, and marvelled at his mode of delivery. His style, both in his use of screamingly unique imagery, slang, humming wit, anticipated the best of what we now take for granted as internet writing. He could work a rap line into a review of a four-star French restaurant, could regale you with the illustrious history of Oaxacan cuisine, drop in an aside about the creation of a legendary rock song, or his own time in a punk band and as a classical cellist.
His sentences read like fun dinner banter (if Mr Oscar Wilde and Ms Fran Lebowitz happened to be at your table), but could swell to rapturous heights in describing something as simple as a bubble of gnocchi. And could turn on a metaphor, an image the quality and clarity of which you were hardly to find outside of, say, Tender Is The Night.
In his epochal, deeply insightful works on the rap group NWA, and on Dr Dre’s classic album The Chronic, Mr Gold’s cool, measured voice always held the promise of a joke, a revelation, a profound insight. In person, his wide eyes always seemed to loll about with the glee of a story-to-come.
But Mr Gold wasn’t only one of the best music writers or food writers – one who really pioneered the use of food as a means to introduce his reader to new lives and new cultures. He was among the greatest writers across the board and was of course the first, and remains the only, food writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in 2007.
He would set himself tasks like eating at every restaurant along Pico Boulevard, snooping out the best food stall in the San Gabriel Valley, the best taco in Highland Park, which made for a wonderful documentary, in 2015’s City Of Gold. And it was his city. He redrew the map of Los Angeles, with his curiosity, wandering into communities otherwise cloistered by geography or cultural isolation, always dragging his readers along with him. He helped to make the city into what it is now. How modern LA thinks of itself – profoundly polyglot and dense, richly variegated, hungry, inquisitive, bursting with eager creativity – owes a lot to him.
So, obviously there is no way to do an issue set in LA, about Angelenos, about the way they dress and live and eat and drive and think, without including Mr Gold. And he was in the midst of writing something for this issue – or, rather, blowing through one deadline after another, as was his wont – when, as he said, he’d found himself a bit ill. It would be overstating things to say that this whole packet of stories, even, was just an excuse to cook something up with him, but it was certainly a big part. And now that he is gone, we like so many others, are at an enormous loss. But we are far from bereft, far from empty. Our plates, our lives, our stories are so much fuller, so much richer, thanks to Mr Gold’s incredible output.
Indeed, we can probably never properly appreciate the impact of his work, his words, his kindness to young writers, his generosity to restaurateurs, chefs, readers, citizens, his guidance into new ways, new worlds, and his rollicking good companionship on the drive there. But we’d love to thank him in any way that we can. For starters, we’d like to dedicate this issue to Mr Gold, to the platters of goodness he gave us, to his wife Ms Laurie Ochoa and their children. We’ll come to the entrees next.