L.A.’s Jewish Top Foodie
Pulitzer-winning food critic Jonathan Gold on his family, his favorite delis, and what makes food Jewish
Folk legend is that Gold eats seven meals a day. “That is urban myth,” he said. But he admitted that when he is writing about small Chinese restaurants in one area of L.A., he might try dishes from four or five restaurants in one evening before figuring out which one to review. He also has been known to take four hours for lunch, return home, and be ready for a big dinner.
Although Gold did not grow up religious, he knows his Jewish food—and not just deli. He can expound on North African Jewish restaurants, too: “I wish we had more of them,” he said. “The Magic Carpet had killer melouach,” a delicious layered Yemenite flat bread with butter, “but it went out of business.”
He has definite feelings about hummus, too. (I already knew this because I had once turned him on to a place called Hummus Bar and Grill, and he was there within hours; it’s now one of his favorites.) “I sort of like the orthodoxy of hummus fetishes,” he said. “I mean people who are insane about hummus.”
But hummus and deli notwithstanding, he’s unsure exactly what makes certain foods Jewish. “What would be a Jewish dish?” he mused. “I am not a Jew in the kitchen. Is it fried artichokes in the Roman way, a pasta with ricotta and lemon, or fried chicken in olive oil? All are technically Jewish, but are they?”
Even though Gold gave up on any notion of becoming a restaurant chef many years ago, he still cooks at least five times a week at home. “Before I go out to restaurants, I cook for my family from the farmers markets,” he said. “One of my criteria is that the dinner at the restaurant be as good as the dinner left behind. I really resent it when it isn’t. Going out and eating something substandard infuriates me because I can get good ingredients at home.”
When asked what he made his wife, Laurie Ochoa, former editor of L.A. Weekly, and his children—Isabel, 17, and Leon, 9—for breakfast the day I spoke with him, he answered in a fashion that seemed to sum up everything about a Jewish foodie in Southern California: “Chilaquiles, basically eggs with leftover corn tortilla chips stirred with a little salsa and finished off with Mexican sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped herbs. We call it Mexican matzo brei.”
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