Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times died July 21 at St. Vincent Medical Center in L.A. He was 57 and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early July, the Times reported.
While most food critics tethered their careers to upscale, Michelin-starred restaurants, Gold was just as likely to be found in small, ethnic mom-and-pop eateries and strip-mall joints or at the order windows of the city’s ubiquitous taco stands and food trucks.
“If I’m doing anything that’s beyond writing about food, I guess, it’s to get people in Los Angeles to be a little less afraid of their neighbors,” Gold told then-Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman during an onstage discussion at the Westside Pavilion Landmark Theatre in 2016.
His “Counter Intelligence” column first appeared in the LA Weekly in 1986, and when he began to write for the Times (his first stint was from about 1990-96), he brought that column and his unique food aesthetic with him.
He peppered his reviews with pop culture references about music, TV, art and more. In a review for Vespertine in Culver City, Gold mentioned “The Handmaid’s Tale,” jazz composer Sun Ra, architect Frank Gehry and contemporary American artist James Turrell, the Times reported.
Gold’s cultivated yet accessible writing was lauded not only by fellow writers but food aficionados and chefs.
“He, more than any chef, changed the dining scene in Los Angeles,” chef and Mozza owner Nancy Silverton told the Times.
The only restaurant critic to date to win journalism’s most prestigious award, Gold was writing for the LA Weekly in 2007 when he won the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer committee cited “his zestful, wide-ranging restaurant reviews, expressing the delight of an erudite reader.”
He returned to the Times in 2012 and became one of the newspaper’s most visible journalists. He headlined events; guested weekly on KCRW-FM’s “Good Food,” hosted by Evan Kleiman; and was the subject of a 2015 documentary, “City of Gold,” directed by Laura Gabbert, in which he said, “The idea of celebrating the glorious mosaic of this city on somebody else’s dime — I kept feeling I was getting away with something.”
Gold, who posted more than 1,550 bylines in the Times, also won James Beard Awards for both magazine and newspaper restaurant reviews.
Gold was born in 1960, the oldest of three sons in a Reform Jewish home. His mother, Judith, worked in the library at L.A.’s Dorsey High School; his father, Irwin, was a probation officer. He studied art and music at UCLA, and was a classically trained musician. He played cello in a couple of punk rock bands, the Times said.
He became the LA Weekly’s music editor, covering hip-hop, grunge and the rise of gangsta rap in the 1980s, the Times reported. He also wrote about music and popular culture for Spin, Rolling Stone, Details and Vanity Fair.
Gold met his wife, Times arts and entertainment editor Laurie Ochoa, in 1984 while he was a proofreader and she was an intern at the LA Weekly. The two were married in 1990 at the now-closed Campanile restaurant, the Times reported.
Gold left the Weekly in 1999 for New York-based Gourmet magazine, where he worked under former L.A. Times critic Ruth Reichl, the Times reported, but he and his wife missed Los Angeles and they returned a few years later.
Gold is survived by his wife and two children, Isabel, 23, and Leon, 15, and brothers Josh and Mark, who is the associate vice chancellor for environment sustainability at UCLA.