For my inaugural piece on this blog I want to write about something that hit me on a personal level – the passing of one my heroes, the writer Jonathan Gold. There are certain writers that I’ve followed for years and read religiously where often it feels like I am having a long, ongoing one-sided conversation with their writing. Jonathan Gold was someone who was particularly able to capture that feeling with his distinct second-person writing style.
Through his columns in LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times Gold was someone who brought the food of the world, most specifically the incredibly diverse cuisines of Los Angeles to his audience. Reading Gold’s reviews, I was often struck by the immense knowledge that he possessed about some obscure cuisine, and wonder how on earth could this middle-aged man living in Pasadena speak with such authority on such diverse cultures? The answer of course is that Gold immersed himself in research into whatever he was writing about. In the lovely documentary City of Gold there are various scenes inside the Gold household that is just consumed with books. There are books all over the place – on the kitchen table, on the floor, on the stairs. The books serve as an extension of his brain. You get the sense of Gold writing a review for some Senegalese restaurant and remembering an obscure detail about Senegalese culture in some book that he would then hunt down somewhere in that house and along the way find loads of other interesting tidbits to give colour to his piece.
When I moved to LA in 2011 Jonathan Gold’s writing was my guide into that world. Like so many others I would explore neighbourhoods that I would never otherwise have even heard of, let alone visit, to stop off at a place he recommended. Often the restaurants were no-frills places, usually quite cheap and serving incredible food. Since I was new to the area and didn’t have many friends, Gold’s writing was a good way to get to know the city. It was an excuse to go on an excursion to some random part of town with my girlfriend and slowly get to know the city that way. It’s a philosophy that I’ve since extended to travel. Try to find the most interesting restaurants in a city, particularly ones that are off the beaten path and use that as a conduit to explore those neighbourhoods.
In a really lovely obituary in the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear wrote, “his greatest accomplishment, the thing that will form his legacy, is that he changed the way that people—Angelenos included—regard Los Angeles. His work coincided with, and in some ways drove, the sloughing off of the old plastic wrapping. As he described the city, its people, food, music, and style, he made it, and it became, real.” Even though I only ended up living in LA for a year and a half I have such an affection and fondness for it and most of that is because of Jonathan Gold’s writing and how he helped me connect with that city and its people. He managed to show what was so special and unique about the city, while also connecting the diverse cultures and communities to everyone and bridging that gap.