Jonathan Gold, the first Pulitzer Prize winner for restaurant criticism and a driving force in the Los Angeles food scene, has died at 57 of pancreatic cancer. The widely beloved writer is survived by his wife, LA Times arts & entertainment editor Laurie Ochoa, and his two children.
Over a career that spanned four decades (and began in music journalism), Gold gained admirers from across the city, by celebrating the ethnic (his word for them was “traditional”) dishes found in LA’s strip malls and back alleys. He took supreme joy in discovering exquisite food hiding in plain sight and championed restaurants that had long been excluded from the mainstream culinary conversation. In an industry where competency as a critic is often signaled by a writer’s ability to go scorched earth, Gold rarely took that tack. Instead, he penned lovely sentences — filled with whimsy, heavy on the metaphors, and shot through with sincerity.
Rather than trying to keep his identity secret, Gold was well known around Los Angeles — exploring the furthest reaches of the megalopolis (and Orange County) in search of food worth writing home about. Like Anthony Bourdain (who he eulogized beautifully just a few weeks ago), Gold used his considerable food-world influence to build a more inclusive culinary conversation. He was outspoken on behalf of female chefs and openly reviled the notoriously narrow-minded approach of bigtime food awards (taking particular umbrage with the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list). Our own Zach Johnston’s focus on Native American foodways feels like the sort of writing that Gold helped make mainstream.
Gold won the Pulitzer in 2007, while at LA Weekly, and his work found a wider audience in 2015 after the release of the documentary City of Gold, which profiled his obsessive wanderings across Los Angeles in a wheezy pickup truck. After news of his death was published by the LA Times, friends, mentees, and chefs went to Twitter to memorialize his work and honor his inclusive spirit:
Gold’s use of the second person point of view in his column “Counter Intelligence” was a deliberate act to make dining — whether at Nobu or one of his beloved taco trucks — feel like something that everyone could feel invested and passionate about. In 2015, he explained to Munchies: “Well, I am trying to democratize food and trying to get people to live in the entire city of Los Angeles. I’m trying to get people to be less afraid of their neighbors.”
With that aim, and in hopes of carrying on Gold’s legacy of celebrating food at all levels (from hidden hawker stalls to haute cuisine), it’s worth studying up on his now famous rules for dining in LA:
Rest in peace to a lion of the industry and a man who was notorious for mentoring writers, championing upstart chefs, and widening the lens through which Angelenos saw their city.