Interview - Los Angeles - Jonathan Gold

Interview - Los Angeles - Jonathan Gold
 Jamison Harper

Jamison Harper

JONATHAN GOLD

RESTAURANT CRITIC

 

The locally-revered and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was more than the arbiter of taste for the city of Los Angeles. He was its biggest fan. When he died on July 21, 2018, of pancreatic cancer, the global food community mourned his passing. Below is an extended version of our interview with him in 2016, which appears in shorter form in our field guide to LA.

 
 

I’M MORE OR LESS a completist. I’ll eat everywhere.

THERE HAVE BEEN times when I’d take a mile or two of street and try to eat at every single restaurant on it.

WHEN I WAS right out of UCLA, I had a dreadful job as a legal proofreader. And I lived on Pico Boulevard. Almost as something to do, I decided that I was going to eat at every restaurant on Pico, starting at a Salvadoran restaurant near the Coca-Cola building all the way down to the curly fries stand at the beach.

NOW I EAT out 10 meals a week. It’s the job. My job is actually physically taxing. I go to the gym five times a week and still look like this!

I GO INTO random places. My most recent one was I tried to go to every restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley that had the word “tasty” in its name.

NEW YORKERS HAVE ALWAYS liked what they thought was particularly “Los Angeles.” It was the Ivy for awhile, which is uniquely horrible — it’s in West Hollywood on Robertson. You used to go there to see the New York magazine editors, looking at the two movie people who happened to stop by. Now it’s definitely Gjelina and Gjusta.

I DON’T KEEP any restaurants to myself that I think are great. But if there are 14 places serving a certain kind of dumpling, I don’t feel it necessary to tell people about all 14.

PEOPLE TALK a lot about the concept of authenticity. I don’t think it exists. It’s constantly mutating.

THE WORD “FOODIE” is not a bad term, because you know exactly what it means. It’s just that so many of the people that foodies don’t want to be associated with have adopted the term.

I USE “foodists,” I use “enthusiasts,” I use “connoisseurs” sometimes, that being firmly tongue-in-cheek. But what I really mean is foodies. [Laughs.]

I will always err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt, especially to a young chef who’s trying something.

USING YELP to figure out where you want to have dinner is useless. If you are between the ages of 19 and 26 and have a drinking problem and you’re an extrovert, Yelp is probably right in your ballpark.

ONE OF THE GREAT things about L.A. is you can decide that you want to eat, essentially, as if you live in Guadalajara. Or you can decide you want to eat, essentially, as if you’re in Chengdu.

AND THAT’S THE THING about food to begin with: You can’t know everything about it. Even if you think you do, it’s always changing.

I LOVE the Hollywood Farmers Market. Sometimes I go to the Pasadena Farmers Market because it’s closer. But those would be the two. McCall’s Meat and Fish in Los Feliz I think is fantastic. I like Chinese supermarkets for a lot of stuff, usually your duck’s gonna be a little bit fresher. For live crabs. There are few things better than a live Dungeness crab, other than a cooked Dungeness crab.

A LOT OF THE OLDER PLACES in Koreatown are keeping what they think is authentic. But they left Seoul in the mid-70s. So they’re serving this beautiful, unvarnished stuff from the ‘70s. Sometimes it blows people’s minds when they come from Korea. It’s like going back in time.

THIS WEEK I’m doing this place in Koreatown called Sung Yung Dan. It serves this soup called galbi jjim, which is short ribs cooked down until they’re almost like a jam. They figured out how to make it sexy. For $3 you can get a handful of grated cheese put on it. This old woman with a blowtorch sits there and melts your cheese laboriously.

THE PLACE has just insane lines. Hours long. David Chang Instagrammed it.

THERE’S A LEBANESE restaurant in Hollywood called Marouch, and it’s just great. Everybody has their Lebanese place that they like, and this one’s mine.

I’M NOT QUITE at the level where I can Instagram a place and it will become mobbed. But I can do a paragraph on something and it’ll end up being mobbed.

THAT’S DEFINITELY one of the benefits of the job. I write about a place, somebody goes there, they’re happy, and then they associate their happiness with me.

I WENT THROUGH this period in my career when I was closing restaurants. And in the early part of my career I was like, “Yesss.” You know? It’s probably how a hunter feels when he brings down a buffalo or something. And then, it started to really bother me. In a way, if somebody writes a bad review of The Avengers movie, Marvel will probably exist on Monday. But if I write a negative review of a restaurant, I’m at the point where it may well close. And I’d put 40 people or whatever out of work because I have an aesthetic opinion. And people who have bad restaurants aren’t necessarily bad people. I mean, they’re probably good people because they want to make people happy. They’re just not very good at their jobs. And yeah, I have to… I don’t do that kind of review anymore.

WHEN I WAS IN NEW YORK there was this perfectly dreadful restaurant called… Atlas, I think? And William Grimes, the New York Times restaurant critic had said it was his favorite restaurant. And it was not just pretentious, not just dreadful, but dreadful and pretentious. [The chef] did things like serve us a full sea urchin with the roe inside, with quince jelly, bean sprouts, and cocoa. I mean, you just want to go back in the kitchen and shake him.

I WILL ALWAYS err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt, especially to a young chef who’s trying something.

I THINK it’s important to encourage people at that age to be creative, to try things out, to not be skewered because they’re being ambitious in a way that doesn’t quite work.

LOS ANGELES IS HUGE. There’s always something you don’t know.


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EXPLORE FURTHER

Read this short essay about Gold by former Gourmet editor-in-chief (and Los Angeles Times food critic) Ruth Riechl

Watch Laura Gabbert’s documentary CITY OF GOLD about his career and his love for Los Angeles

 Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times

WILDSAM INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN GOLD BY ANN FRIEDMAN