On Saturday evening, July 28, 2018, the city of Los Angeles paid tribute to restaurant critic Jonathan Gold by drenching local buildings (and monuments, random walls, LAX, a ferris wheel, and at least one movie marquee) in shimmering saffron light to create a “city of gold” on what would have been Jonathan’s 58th birthday.
Admittedly, those from out of town might think it a bit odd, or even excessive, that LA would decorate much of the city for one night to honor a…well….food writer.
But they would be wrong. Mr. Gold, as he was often affectionately called, who died at 57 on July 21, of a fast-moving pancreatic cancer, changed our complicated city profoundly and irrevocably for the better, even for the So Cal residents who may never have read anything he wrote.
But Jonathan didn’t so much write about food as he did about the region’s rich and varied communities, and about the warp and weft of cultures that gives our City of Angels its most fundamental strength.
In doing so, through his reviews, he repeatedly introduced us to each other, like the best kind of party host who perceives all the unique and wondrous qualities of his guests, and can’t wait for them to mix and meet.
As Gustavo Arellano wrote in one of the many obits and appreciations of Mr. Gold, “Southern California didn’t just lose its best food writer…. we lost one of our greatest and most important literary voices.
“He deserves a spot in the pantheon of Los Angeles writers, alongside Charles Bukowski, Walter Mosley and Luis J. Rodriguez. His columns have the same defining importance about our time and place as Joan Didion’s dispatches…”
And yet, Jonathan was someone whose work anyone and everyone could read without ever feeling left out of the conversation. His “ideal reader” was all of us.
At the same time, he is the only food columnist ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, which he was awarded in 2007 when he was still writing his “Counter Intelligence” column for the LA Weekly, where his wife, Laurie Ochoa, was then the editor. (Later Gold moved on to the LA Times.)
His yearly 101 best restaurants list ranged from nearly unfoodlike creations by some Culver City superstar chef, to the fragrant offerings of a Chongqing-style noodle house crammed into a strip mall in San Gabriel, to his rotating list of stellar taco trucks, all described with the same unparalleled depth of knowledge, egalitarian insight, and enthusiasm.
“I am trying to democratize food and trying to get people to live in the entire city of Los Angeles,” Mr. Gold told VICE magazine in a 2015 interview. “I’m trying to get people to be less afraid of their neighbors.”
So why is a criminal justice news site like WLA writing about Jonathan Gold?
Well, because we believe that the more that all of us try to live “in the entire city,” and the “less afraid” we are of each other, the better able we will collectively be to grapple with the kind of challenging problems that WLA reports on daily.
Plus we are deeply saddened to lose the irreplaceable Mr. Gold. And we wanted to say so.