When I walked up, Jonathan Gold stood talking with a small group of food writers. It was after his keynote presentation at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference in Hollywood, CA, and I was late for a session. I didn’t care. One of my food writing idols seemed to be available in the cavernous ballroom.
How often does that happen? At IACP, quite often. If you’ve been to their conferences, you probably remember when Julia Child and Jaques Pepin roamed the halls, official IACP bag over their shoulders, open to a chat.
Too scared to talk with either of them, I decided I wasn’t going to blow this opportunity. I had just teared up as the crowd watched the trailer for City of Gold (above), the new documentary about this Pulitzer Prize-wining food writer for the Los Angeles Times.
So I said hello and somehow, Jonathan Gold and I sat and talked for over an hour, for no apparent reason other than that he was willing.
(We weren’t total strangers. We met years ago, when he spoke at a food writing workshop I chaired at UCLA. And he has actually left a comment or two on this blog. )
Among the topics we discussed:
- cultural appropriation, an important topic in food writing
- his feud with Rick Bayless
- a memoir he’s behind on that’s due in August (see the movie regarding his legendary procrastination)
- how much he disliked the inclusion of his procrastination in the documentary
- the rise of women chefs in Los Angeles
- wearing disguises as a reviewer, and
- whether he should review the restaurants of people he’s friends with, particularly chef Nancy Silverton.
I wasn’t sure how to handle this impromptu gift. I took out a notepad early on, when we were at a particularly sensitive moment, and he asked if our talk was on the record. I said it didn’t have to be, then put it away. But I’m not used to talking with someone of his stature without taking notes. So it was more like an interview, because as a journalist, that’s what I know how to do.
Throughout our conversation he was genial, kind, thoughtful, and thought provoking. When I made assertions he disagreed with, he gently explained his view without pomposity or aggression. He was not intimidating in the least.
When you watch City of Gold, you will be thrilled by how much access you have to him. What I liked most are Gold’s subversiveness (he includes a food truck and small strip-mall restaurants in his guide to L.A.’s best restaurants); and his embrace of “the other:” He loves the the taco stand in the laundromat as much as he loves fine dining.
So the morals of today’s blog post are:
- Go to conferences and allow the unexpected to occur
- Talk with people you respect, even if you’re afraid. I encouraged a client to approach Gold, and after they talked he said, “Contact (editorial director) Peter Meehan at Lucky Peach and tell him I sent you.” Pretty cool, eh?
- Go see the movie and learn how Gold operates as a food critic and culinary cartographer. His curiosity and intellect are legendary. Bring tissues. (Technically this is not a moral but it’s a moral imperative!)
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