HE’S TACKLED THE PORNO BURRITO, faced down the city’s toughest maitre d’s, scouted out street-side taco carts at midnight, slurped the San Gabriel Valley’s spiciest noodles and experienced every possible sensation of smoke and char and animal in a single thin slice of astronomically expensive Kyushu rib eye. Now Jonathan Gold, the L.A. Weekly’s restaurant critic, has won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. This is the first Pulitzer Prize for the L.A. Weekly and the first time a restaurant critic has won the distinguished award.
“From Brillat-Savarin to M.F.K. Fisher to Jonathan Gold, there is a tradition of writers who understand the value of fine food and strong drink,” said Michael Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, which owns the L.A. Weekly. “Jonathan’s particular brilliance is that he is as likely to illustrate this notion with a pushcart vendor as a sushi chef. And like many of our best critics, he is a cultural omnivore who can write captivatingly about almost anything. His gift to us is that he chose food.”
Gold started out at the L.A. Weekly in 1982 as a proofreader while he was studying art and music at UCLA, and by the mid-’80s became one of the paper’s most popular writers. He’s had several jobs at the Weekly over the years, from caption guru to editor of several of the paper’s Best of L.A. issues. As music editor in the ’80s, he wrote groundbreaking pieces about new-music composers, thrash metal and the L.A. rap scene just as it was going national: Boulez, Metallica and N.W.A. But restaurant criticism is where he really captured people’s imagination in the city. With the encouragement of Weekly founder Jay Levin, he started his Counter Intelligence column in 1986 as a way of exploring Los Angeles’ ethnic neighborhoods, places that often go underreported in other papers. He took the column to the L.A. Times from 1990 to 1996, all the while writing “proper” restaurant reviews of high-end places in California and Los Angeles magazines, as well as music stories for Spin, Rolling Stone and Details. In 1999, he left Los Angeles to become Gourmet magazine’s New York restaurant critic and was the first food writer to be honored as a National Magazine Award finalist in criticism by the American Society of Magazine Editors. In 2001, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he revived Counter Intelligence for the Weekly while continuing to write for Gourmet.
“This is a sweet victory on so many levels,” said editor in chief Laurie Ochoa, who has been married to Gold since 1990 (they met at the Weekly in 1984). “I love that even as Jonathan established a national reputation, he continued to call the Weekly home.”
“We are very honored to win our first Pulitzer and very proud of Jonathan Gold,” said L.A. Weekly publisher Beth Sestanovich. “Our criticism of the arts, music scene, film and, of course, food and drink has been acknowledged by many other awards over the years, and we are thrilled to add a Pulitzer to that list.”
“Alternative papers are beginning to get the respect they’ve earned,” Lacey told the Associated Press on Monday. “If I had cigars, I’d be passing them out right now.”
“What this represents,” said Gold, “is the triumph of the proofreader.”
Links to Gold’s prizewinning columns can be found at www.laweekly.com.