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Published on June 5th, 2017 | by Kyla Ren

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Jonathan Gold sits down with aspiring students

On Tuesday, May 16, LA Times food critic and Pulitzer Prize Winner Jonathan Gold sat down with students to discuss his adventures and enlighten the group about the culture of cuisine in our beloved City of Angels.

The critic’s niece, Natalie Gold (’17), arranged the meeting with English teacher Pete Barraza, for his students currently taking Latin American Literature, California Literature and AP Language and Composition. After watching the documentary City of Gold in class, starring the guest speaker, many students were fascinated by the hidden gems and dives that fall right beside the white-tablecloth and votive-lit restaurants on the same street, but in parallel worlds within the walls.

The restaurant critic recommends RiceBar and Guerrilla Tacos for local dives near Santa Monica, and continued to answer the students’ questions with grace and class for over an hour.

On His Favorite Part of LA-7

Gold: I try not to [choose one], but I just love the San Gabriel Valley… There’s a huge concentration of Chinese culture but from forty different regions and it’s just always great. I could never drive down Garvey or Atlantic and not run into something that I hadn’t known existed.

“After watching the documentary in several of my senior classes, it became very clear that this is a centerpiece about California living and community. In terms of my Latin-American Literature classes, so much of our discussion this year has been about the turmoil in Latin American countries that have forced people to uproot and move here to Los Angeles and ‘City of Gold’ is about how people come and reestablish their cultural strings, but also foster a hybridity that creates the rich diversity that has been passed along to Los Angelenos,” Barraza said.

On How He Evaluates the Plate-

Gold: If you try to get every detail, it would drive you insane… That was the school of food writing that I definitely drove away from… It’s important to know the details and pick them apart… but food is inseparable from culture. To me, the cultural part is the most interesting. Somebody is trying to say something, somebody is trying to make someone feel at home or wow somebody within the context of a larger menu or somebody is trying to display a certain gorgeous vegetable… As long as you understand what they’re trying to do, you can figure out whether they’re doing what they’re trying to accomplish…

“Jonathan Gold had been at an event the night before and he told me that he felt that the questions asked by students were much more sophisticated and probing compared to the professionals from the previous night. Just by the nature of the cultural and intellectual curiosity of the students, it was really clear that they enjoyed the afternoon with him,” Barraza said.  

On the Purpose of his Food Reviews-

Gold: I tend to be more descriptive than I am evaluative… Restaurants that I really don’t like, I tend not to review rather than the slam. Not everybody in my profession is like that… Negative reviews get a ton of response, but in a way they are a cheap shot.

On Gentrification of the Good Scene in LA-

Gold: I read a lot about restaurants that have become Jonathan Gold-ified, meaning that you can’t go there anymore because there are too many hipsters now… But on the other hand, I think that since I tend to promote the kind of places that I do… that their passion, of let’s say southern Thai food, becomes popularized. I try to figure out what makes the place distinct.

“In looking at various modes of writing, it was such a privilege to have a Pulitzer Prize winner come and speak to my students and it helped them understand that writing is hard work regardless of the discipline or genre or focus,” Barraza said.

The writer’s passion for exploring and learning was evident in the way his fingers danced with his words as he remembered some of his favorite memories in the valley. And the empathy that the writer holds close to home becomes portrayed through his poetic articles that are unorthodox in the world of criticizing cuisine.

“Samohi students have always had the luxury of access to different speakers… That’s one of the things that separates us from other schools, we are able to make those connections. And maybe the next Jonathan Gold is running around here…” Barraza said.  

Jonathan Gold, while wearing pin-striped suspenders that held his Pulitzer Prize under his belt, spent an hour with hopeful students as they became immersed in his conversation of the culture in our backyard flowers that most of us had never noticed outside the bubble of Santa Monica, but now we are revived with a taste for adventure in this City of Stars.

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