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L.A.’s food community remembers Jonathan Gold

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

And just like that, Los Angeles lost its voice. Jonathan Gold—the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic with decades of work and more than 1,000 reviews split between the L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly, Gourmet magazine and others—helped define and explore the culinary underpinnings of Los Angeles and the world at large. In a sudden, wrenching and shocking turn, on Saturday, at only 57, the bard and the belly of this city passed away, as reported by the L.A. Times.

A fixture at noodle shops, dumpling houses, food festivals, anju bars and anywhere that served blood cubes or molotes or tripas or, well, you’re beginning to get the picture: Gold was a champion of the hidden corners, the outskirts, the underdogs, the underbellies and anywhere that might make fussy eaters and elderly relatives wary of entering and ordering a bowl of steaming offal. But Gold knew the heart of Los Angeles, and he knew that this is where diners could glimpse it.

As he famously once said, “I’m not a cultural anthropologist. I write about taco stands and fancy French restaurants to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors and to live in their entire city instead of sticking to their one part of town.” 

For decades he invited all walks of life to the table and led us into strip malls and fine-dining restaurants with reverence for both ends of the culinary spectrum, and as eaters, L.A. residents and visitors alike owe him our palates. Of course his influence did not stop with diners; the chefs of the city both feared and respected Gold, an affable and curious but discerning writer whose prose loomed larger than his tall, suspenders-clad frame. Here are a few memories and farewells from the culinary community of Los Angeles, the city that will always belong to Gold.

Photograph: Courtesy Goro Toshima from "City of Gold"

Bricia Lopez Maytorena of Guelaguetza: “I know you’re in heaven having a blast w Bourdain and Chef Tui. I can already picture you three getting into trouble up there. Thank you for your friendship, guidance, trust, but most of all, thank you for changing my life. J-Geezy, I owe so so so much to you. I’m going to miss you, my entire family will miss you. L.A. will miss you. You will always be the true belly of This city. I love you.”

Joseph Geiskopf of Triniti: “Mr. Gold, I've cooked for you and your family for the past 10 years while I was working in L.A. I remember you used to come into Red Medicine for late night, and after working a 14-hour shift we would talk about Thai markets and the new menu, you told me about markets and neighborhoods I’ve never known. When you came to Destroyer we picked up right where we left off, talking about artistic influence and color palettes, Cy Twombly and Sun Ra. When you visited Triniti, I told you it was an absolute pleasure for me to have something of my very own. Outside you told me, ‘Keep the course, you’re onto something truly great. Your food is maximalism and a study in minimalism, you’re an L.A. chef now, Joseph.’ It was an honor. A true critic that never criticized, only one that gave an observational point of view of time and place. I'll have all the tacos and all the boat noodles for you. You knew many people but this was how I knew you. You were a mentor and never knew it. You repped the brown people the hardest. The #GOAT. Thank you, Uncle Gold.”

Chase Valencia of LASA: “Jonathan Gold championed for L.A. He looked deep in the multicultural heart of our neighborhoods to celebrate the flavors & the people who make our city beautiful. If he loved it, he would let the world know and people would listen and follow. Back in 2016, when we were still a three-night pop-up at Unit 120, he came to eat several times. Honestly, we were scared shitless but at the same time so excited to share with him what we’re doing. During one of his meals, we checked in on how everything was tasting, and he replied, ‘Be prepared to get busy.’ A week later, his review of us was published and everything changed. Angelenos from all over came and still continue to come because of him. His love and appreciation will forever leave an imprint on us and our food community. Thank you for all you’ve done for us and L.A. You will be dearly missed.”

Joseph Centeno of Orsa & Winston, PYT, Bar Amá and Bäco Mercat: “Mr. Gold reviewed me eight times with about 32-plus review visits (this is not counting just coming to eat) since 2007. The level of stress seeing him walk through the door never got easier. But when his dining in wasn’t about business, I cherished the conversations we had, whether it was talking about best uses of bush tomato from Australia, how long to cook turnips in embers or his favorite way to eat sayori fish. He will always be a tremendous presence, influence and mentor to me. Laurie took this photo the last time I cooked for him in May of this year. I will miss you dearly, Mr. Gold. Godspeed.”

Ludo Lefebvre of Trois Mec, Petit Trois, LudoBird and Trois Familia: “Another heartbreak. Jonathan Gold was the most important food critic for Los Angeles ever. He supported me like a father, with an open and encouraging, but critical voice. He would be honest, but always open to whatever path I may have been on at the time. As he said to Krissy once, ‘I believe I understand his cooking; at the least, I've watched it evolve.’ Jonathan would show up at every LudoBites, he would embrace it with all seriousness of Michelin-starred restaurant. Because of the temporary nature of LudoBites, JG would want to sit down and talk to me about each dish, the origin and process, everything. He knew he probably wouldn’t have a second chance to try the dish. He cared, he really cared. That is what was so special about Jonathan, he was always willing to take the journey. For me, it spanned from Bastide to LudoBites to LudoBird to Trois Mec to Petit Trois to Trois Familia. He wrote with so much dedication about the L.A. culinary scene. He was a proud Angeleno and wanted to share everything that L.A. had to offer with the world. He truly was the belly of Los Angeles. Over the years we became friends. We sat on panels together, judged contests together, did TV shows together and I was honored to appear in his documentary. But that never ever changed the fact that I would break into a stress-filled sweat when he would walk into any of one my restaurants. Friendship would not dictate his review. A huge huge huge loss.”

Miles Thompson of Michael's Santa Monica: “RIP Mr. Gold. Thank you for writing about, believing in, and championing for this city. For relentlessly and honestly letting the world know and remember that great food and culture bubbles up through every crack and crevice. For supporting young Chefs and immigrant Chefs and curious diners and all people who genuinely love and crave food. The democracy of your voice was so singular and honest, thank you, thank you.”

Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market: “His support pulled us back from the brink. His words taught me so much of what I know. He was my hero. I’m not sure where we go from here. Rest easy, Mr. Gold.”

(Click through the slide show below to read one of Gold’s emails to Yenbamroong, written in the witty, biting and encouraging style so emblematic of Gold’s approach.)

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Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungcal at Now Serving: “Make no mistake, sir. This will always be your town. These onramps and strip malls forever your domain. It was an honor to be in your orbit. By showing us where to break bread, you illuminated an entire city to the world, bring us closer together word by word. It felt like you would always be around, seeing you at the farmer’s markets, the restaurants, the taco trucks, the holes in the wall, hearing you on KCRW Good Food and in your columns. Thank you for inviting us along, the Belly of Los Angeles, it was a hell of a ride. The food world just lost a legend and it will never be the same.”

Tim Hollingsworth of Otium: “I am at loss for words. I can’t believe this man who was such an incredible force in Los Angeles and one of the most talented writers I knew has passed. Jonathan Gold was able to come into Otium when we just opened and leave with that beautiful mind racing with thoughts that once touched paper were able to better explain my own concept than I could myself.”

Jocelyn Ramirez of Todo Verde: “Meeting Jonathan Gold was one of my life goals since following his work writing about some of the best food in Los Angeles for so many years. When I decided to start Todo Verde, I had this dream that one day I would get to serve him our food. Not for recognition, but so I could say thank you in a way I knew he would understand—over traditional flavors made with lots of love. When I first met him at Smorgasburg, I served him our Amorcito agua fresca and said, 'Thank you for making City of Gold and for all you’ve done for L.A.' He sweetly said thank you and was so gracious. I wondered for weeks if he liked our agua fresca. I later met him at a food conference, where he was speaking, and introduced myself saying, 'I briefly met you at Smorgasburg—you tried our agua fresca.' His face lit up as he said, 'Strawberry rose and chia—that was delicious. Are you still there every Sunday?' He’ll never know how much that one comment motivates me whenever I wonder if I have what it takes to keep going. He’s been a powerful force in the L.A. food scene, and made small mom-and-pop, traditional restaurants champions of this city’s palate. He will be missed dearly by all who embrace this City of GoldThank you for all you’ve done to inspire my journey. I owe you dinner in the next life.”

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