Gold helped Los Angeles, a fractured and multiplicitous city, "understand itself."
Jonathan Gold, longstanding Los Angeles Times food critic, died in Los Angeles on Saturday at the age of 57, due to pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed in July, as reported by the L.A. Times. His loss is widely being mourned by journalists, chefs, and Angelenos alike.
It’s hard to estimate or describe Gold’s impact on Los Angeles’s food scene. It’s not just that he was the first ever food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, or that he helped the city’s international food scene gain nationwide acclaim. Most of all, as the L.A. Times wrote today, he helped Los Angeles, a fractured and multiplicitous city, "understand itself."
"Jonathan didn’t want us to go out to Monterey Park simply to eat Sichuan pickles," wrote Ruth Reichl, a food critic and editor at the L.A. Times from 1984 to 1993, on Saturday. "He didn’t lure us out to El Monte or the world’s best birria burritos for their mere deliciousness. He wrote enticing prose designed to take us out of our safe little territories to mingle with other people because he knew that restaurants aren’t really about food. They’re about people."
He beckoned thirty-somethings from their Silver Lake enclaves to the San Gabriel Valley to sample griddle-cooked bullfrog and cumin-spiked mutton at Chengdu Taste, heeding them to respect the potency of Sichuan peppercorn, likening its numbing effect to “a flashing Las Vegas sign.”
He helped lifelong Angelenos venture to neighborhoods within their own city to which they had never been, much less dined; eastside to west, South Central to the Valley, and back again. Through his columns, first at L.A. Weekly—he started there in the 1980s as a proofreader and music writer—and later at the L.A. Times, he reviewed Guatemalan, Northern Thai, and Keralan restaurants in the way that other critics only wrote about Eurocentric food. And somehow, he managed to do it without being exotifying.
“I am trying to democratize food and trying to get people to live in the entire city of Los Angeles,” Gold told Vice in 2015. “I’m trying to get people to be less afraid of their neighbors.”
Gold has been profiled countless times, but perhaps nowhere as vividly as in the 2015 documentary, City of Gold. If you’re inspired to eat at his favorite restaurants in his honor, click here.
Gold is survived by his wife, L.A. Times arts and entertainment editor Laurie Ochoa—they met at L.A. Weekly—and a daughter, Isabel, 23, and a son, Leon, 15.