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Mason meets Jonathan Gold
Food critic

Mason meets Jonathan Gold | Kidspiration

Would you like a job where you got paid to eat? What if that job meant eating in Thai and Uzbek and Iranian and Salvadoran and Korean restaurants – all in one night? That’s what Jonathan Gold does. He’s a journalist who writes about food and restaurants for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

As the paper’s food critic, Mr. Gold eats meals in restaurants and then tells readers what he thinks of the food and the restaurant itself. Often, he’ll go to a restaurant three to five different times before he decides what he wants to say in his column.

What he says about a restaurant and the meals he ate can be very important to that business and to his enthusiastic readers. It’s not an easy job – he usually goes to six or seven places in one night and sometimes, he brings his two kids with him to taste-test.

His “territory” is enormous because the greater Los Angeles area includes about 34,000 square miles or almost 88,000 square kilometers! That’s room for a lot of restaurants, and because there are so many, he can review about 300 to 500 different eating places a year.

Mr. Gold is really interested in the area’s many immigrant communities and the different ways they prepare food. He’s not just eating at the fancy posh places but also at the small diners, food stands, and tiny rooms where people are cooking their native dishes and creating new variations of traditional meals. “You want these guys to succeed,” he says in City of Gold, a 2015 documentary about his work. He’s happy to make readers as aware of the small one-family restaurants as those fancy and expensive ones.

Lots of people across the United States read his food columns. In 2007, he was the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, a prestigious American journalism award. And in City of Gold, people will get to see him as he “discovers the world, one meal at a time.”

Mason interviews Jonathan Gold, food critic for the Los Angeles Times, at Guelaguetza Restaurant in Los Angeles.



Mason:
Hey, I’m Mason and today, I am meeting with Jonathan Gold. He’s a food critic for the Los Angeles Times and he’s the first food critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, an award for newspaper journalism. Now, let’s go and meet him and hope that we get something good to eat as well.

—-

Mason:
Hello, I am Mason. It is very nice to meet you.

Jonathan:
It’s nice to meet you, too. I’m Jonathan.

Mason:
Nice to meet you. Could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do?

Jonathan:
I am the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and I go to restaurants and I write about them.

Mason:
Now, what is your mindset going into a restaurant that you’re about to review?

Jonathan:
Well, I’m looking for a place that’s going to blow me away, that’s going to serve me something I’ve never had before, that’s going to get me really excited. And it can do that in a number of different ways.

Mason:
What are those types of ways?

Jonathan:
One, the chef can be imaginative, can do something I’ve never seen anyone do before. The place where we are now is Guelaguetza and this was the first restaurant in Los Angeles to serve the food of Oaxaca, a state in Central Mexico where a lot of the cooking is the same way that it was before Columbus came to America.

Mason:
I heard that you would use disguises and burner phones to review restaurants. Why is that?

Jonathan:
There is or, until very recently, was a tradition in the United States of anonymity among restaurant critics. So we’re supposed to go into a place and have exactly the same experience as everyone else. And I have friends, like Ruth Reichl, who used to be the restaurant critic for The New York Times and the editor of Gourmet, would actually dress up differently and have a makeup artist put stuff on their face, wear different glasses and things.

I’ve never done that, because I don’t think it works. The people who own the restaurants know who the people writing about them are, for the most part. It’s probably more glamorous to dress up.

—-

Mason:
I do not know what to expect here.

Jonathan:
It’ll be delicious, though, I promise. Have you had grasshoppers before?

Mason:
No, not at all, never in my life.

Jonathan:
In Central Mexico, grasshoppers are a thing and when you eat them, it’s mostly crunch and a little bit of a smoky flavor. You don’t get – it’s not – it doesn’t taste weird at all. There’s nothing weird about it except, of course, it is. So what I like to do is take a spoonful. Try not to think about it too hard [laughing]. What do you think?

Mason:
That is amazing. Oh my gosh. That is better than I thought. I like how the lime just adds to it.

Jonathan:
Yeah, makes it kind of zesty.

Mason:
I saw grasshoppers, I was like aren’t those supposed to be in the ground? I would love your job.

Jonathan:
I bet you would. I feel happy to have it every day. The single best thing about my job is going around and getting to explore Los Angeles every day. It’s such a big city. You can drive 100 miles in a straight line and you’re pretty much still in it. And I’m always doing something new every day. That’s also a good thing about being a newspaper person in general is that every day is different. Every day you’re writing about something new.

Mason:
How were you growing up as a kid?

Jonathan:
Sort of a nerdy kid. I read a lot, I spent a lot of time watching the Dodgers. I practiced the cello. I never thought that I wanted to do anything in my life besides play the cello.

Mason:
Well, now I can say I’ve tried grasshopper.

Jonathan:
Yes.

—-

Mason:
Can you cook yourself?

Jonathan:
Yeah, I can cook.

Mason:
Really? What’s your specialty?

Jonathan:
I cook a lot of Italian food, because Los Angeles has the best Asian food in the country and it has the best food from Latin America in the country. If I want great Italian food, sometimes I’ve got to cook it myself.

Mason:
Curious question.

Jonathan:
Sure.

Mason:
If you had to choose one color that describes you, what would that color be?

Jonathan:
That’s an interesting question. Pink. Pink’s a good one.

Mason:
Why is that?

Jonathan:
I’m just thinking that because I always buy pink toothbrushes, because I know that nobody else in my family will ever be caught dead with it, but it’s a perfectly good color and it’s easy on the eye.

Mason:
Do you ever feel nervous about going into a restaurant and reviewing them knowing that you could literally make or break that restaurant?

Jonathan:
If you’re a film critic and you give a bad review to the new Batman movie, Warner Brother’s is going to do okay, right? I mean, they’ll open for business. But sometimes when you write a really negative review of a restaurant, the restaurant will close. And if it’s important to do it for some reason, I’ll do it, and I have closed restaurants, but I don’t take pleasure in it and I’m very, very careful about it.

Mason:
Now, what advice do you have to kids like me who may look up to you for inspiration?

Jonathan:
If you’re interested in food, try different things. Maybe go to the kitchen and take down some of the spices and mix, like, just a little bit of it with maybe some cream cheese and put it on a cracker. And taste it and try to learn the difference between the taste of clove and of cardamom and of rosemary and of thyme. You’ll be surprised how easy it is, but so many people don’t take the time to do that.

Mason:
How about we both take a bite on three.

Jonathan:
Sure.

Mason:
One, two, three.

Jonathan:
One, two, three. Potatoes and chorizo.

Mason:
Oh, that was delicious. Thank you for this. This was amazing.

Jonathan:
I’m so glad we got to eat together, Mason.

Mason:
Yes, sir.

—-

Mason:
It was awesome being able to meet Jonathan Gold and figuring out what it’s like to be a highly acclaimed food critic. Well, I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did and until next time. I’ll see you later.