I came across a bittersweet Twitter post by Canadian superstar Seth Rogen over the weekend who mourned the passing of Jonathan Gold, an acclaimed food critic for the LA Times. Having never witnessed Rogen to share such emotions online I felt compelled to investigate.
As I delved into Gold's life, a torrent of memories came rushing back from my years in Southern California. Los Angeles was where I came of age and learned to fend for myself like never before. The City of Angels was where I first tended to a bruised heart and it was also where I fell in love with food. East L.A. taquerias and their 'muy-caliente' corn tacos that vanquished a surging hangover, West-Side Italian bistros that always broke the bank and — my favourite — the Korea Town BBQ joints that never failed to induce a food-coma.
Rich in historical context and highly descriptive language, Gold does more than whet your appetite. He leaves you with a better understanding of what makes cuisine so special. As the NY Times’ Pete Wells accurately details:
"In more than a thousand reviews published since the 1980s, Mr. Gold chronicled his city’s pupuserias, bistros, diners, nomadic taco trucks, soot-caked outdoor rib and brisket smokers, sweaty indoor xiao long bao steamers, postmodern pizzerias, vintage delicatessens, strictly omakase sushi-yas, Roman gelaterias, Korean porridge parlors, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodle vendors, Iranian tongue-sandwich shops, vegan hot dog griddles, cloistered French-leaning hyper-seasonal tasting counters and wood-paneled Hollywood grills with chicken potpie and martinis on every other table."
He once said he wrote “to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors” with this touching tribute by Ruth Reichl, one of his former colleagues at the newspaper, making it crystal clear:
"...Jonathan didn’t want us to go out to Monterey Park simply to eat Sichuan pickles. 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.”
On my first family trip to LA as a young adult, I went out on NYE and found myself in the company of a beautiful Japanese woman. Her name was Mitsuko and she took me home that night. Awaking with a searing headache on the other side of town, Mitsuko and her friend invited me to a Japanese temple downtown to welcome in the New Year.
The experience was profound — mystical even — and burns bright to this day. The place was rammed with Japanese-Americans of all ages, all lining up for their chance to bring good fortune to the year ahead. What remains so vivid are the children and their faces — particularly one mix-raced child in her father’s arms. It was her coffee-coloured skin, her thick black hair sprouting out of a scrunchy. The sense of wonder in her eyes brought it all back home.