It's been a tough summer for food writers. Last month, Anthony Bourdain took his life in a French hotel room, and this past weekend came the sad news that Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold died from pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
Gold began his career at the LA Weekly, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. He helped pave the way for Bourdain and scores of other food writers like me who looked not to white tablecloth restaurants with $450 tasting menus for great food, but holes-in-the-wall with greasy, laminated menus where English was usually a second—or third—language. While he wrote expertly of upscale restaurants, he was at his best when he probed the outer burgs of San Fernando Valley and the myriad family-run restaurants and food carts that featured cuisine from seemingly every corner of the world. By decoding and demystifying the polyglot cuisines and cultures of greater Los Angeles, Gold made the city feel smaller.
And he did it with great storytelling that not only made you hungry, but opened your eyes to a wider world filled with people struggling to survive, enjoy life and hold on to what is precious to them—people just like you.
Like any good critic, Gold's writing was about more than his subject at hand. His reviews went beyond what to order at this or that taqueria or Korean barbecue joint. They were about nothing less than our shared humanity. Gold had an insatiable curiosity for the people and food of Los Angeles that make it a great city. He plumbed the depths of L.A.'s ethnic diversity, demystifying and celebrating what may have seemed foreign and weird, but was really just someones's mom or dad's home cooking.
Gold was a fearless diner who showed us there was really nothing to fear at all. He ate with gusto and dove headlong into the unknown with love, curiosity and compassion. America could use a lot more of that spirit right now.
I hope the taco trucks and dumpling shops are open 24/7 wherever you are, Jonathan.
Stett Holbrook is the editor of the 'Bohemian' and the 'Pacific Sun.'
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