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Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold dead but he gave us the keys to the hidden city

Jonathan Gold was the most crazy person I’ve ever met … Ruth Reichl

Ask someone.

His friends all knew that when he called you, 20 minutes after he promised to come to dinner for you – in a restaurant or in your house – to say he’d been hit by a terrible transport, it probably meant he did not even get a car. It was always late.

If you were his editor, you gave him false dates and hoped that if you could convince him that you needed it before you actually did, you can get a copy in time. Good luck. For Jonathan, the deadlines were only the subject.

Jonathan appeared to be harassing the rules. In the eighties, when I met him for the first time, he set out cheerfully without a driver’s license. He wore what he wanted – in the early years of his constant costume he was a little black motorcycle cloak – he lived where he wanted to, and he spent the time devoting himself to the interests that interested him. These included music of all kinds, inconspicuous taste for books and deep interest in the most crazy art. (If you have not heard the story of a chicken, ask me some time.)

For someone like me, who has always been a very good girl, the fact that he spent his life doing exactly what he wanted – instead of what was expected – could be very irritating. But if you are ready to explode, write something so wonderful or something so cute that you forgive him.

I met Jonathan just after arriving in Los Angeles in 1984. At our first meeting I was upset by saying that he ate in every stall taco in the city, which I thought was a ridiculous bit of hyperbole. It turned out to be true. At that time he was employed as a music critic and he accidentally disappeared names like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, they say they are important musicians. How unpleasant it turned out to be alright.

But what we did was food; I never met anyone with such deep knowledge of Korean and Thai cuisine and slowly introduced me to the secrets of pupusas, arepas and tortas. It was a true encyclopedia of food in Los Angeles, and when Laurie Ochoa (who became his wife) and I took over the Food section of this work, the first thing we did was ask Jonathan to write to us. Of course, his copy is always too late.

“I know you’re crazy,” he said in one unforgettable argument, “but it’s worth it.” And of course it was. The first thing I said when I asked Conde Nast to become Gourmet Magazine editor was “Can I bring Laurie and Jonathan with me?” Because even though I knew Jonathan would be impossible to produce the best Epicurean publication in their country without their help.

Jonathan Gold “the strength of the food”

Now that I look back, it seems to me that so much that I have respected Jonathan I have never really appreciated how much he has given us – or how much he has changed the journalism meal. Long before someone used the words “social gastronomy,” long before Tony Bourdain stepped out of the kitchen and on the television screen, when no one in America – and few people in the world – understood the strength of the food, Jonathan got it.

From the very beginning, he used restaurant criticism as a way to talk about more than where you should eat. In his bones, he understood many ways how food is a powerful way to create a community.

When I first came to LA, the Thai chef told me he could live his whole life in this city without learning English simply by remaining inside the Thai community. He did it as a sad thing, but what Jonathan understood was that this insular quality is exactly what makes Los Angeles food so convincing. This is one place in America, where chefs from all over the world cook for their audience’s demanding audience.

But Jonathan did not want us to go out to Monterey Park just to eat stewed cucumbers. He did not send us to El Monte or the world’s best burritos for his mere delicacy. He wrote an affectionate prose that brought us out of our safe little territories to get in touch with other people because he knew the restaurants were not eating. They are people.

He gave us the key to the hidden city, introduced us to people we never knew. And the city has changed. It’s nothing like the city I found when I came here for the first time in 1984.

But he did it. Other food critics offer kids-sitting and leaving their children at home. Not Jonathan. When he had a family, he wanted them anywhere, and Izzy and Leon therefore ate more mysterious food in unusual places than other children on earth. I think I’ve never met better parents than Jonathan and Laurie – the family was so tight. It was an amazing and pure pleasure.

I can hear Jonathan’s loss every Saturday because I want to read all the stories he never wrote. And I apologize for the city because L.A. without Jonathan it will not be the same. But when I think of the Ochoa-Gold family as three instead of four, the heart really breaks.

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