Like any L.A. native worth their weight in sea salt — or any who have driven across the city to experience the most reliable lamb barbacoa tacos, blackened at the edges and caramelized to a sweet subtle gaminess; or bowls of ramen filled with resilient noodles and fatty, long-simmered meltingly soft pork; or the swelling xiao long bao dumpling in all its splendor — I was heartbroken to hear of Jonathan Gold’s passing.
I've known Jonathan since the '90s, when we both worked at a start-up teen magazine, where he was still, magically and wonderfully, writing about music, and I most likely was clumsily writing about Hollywood and “trend forecasting.”
Years later, I learned it was Jonathan who'd encouraged his deep, beautiful wife, then–L.A. Weekly editor-in-chief Laurie Ochoa, to hire me at the paper after I cold-pitched a story about a Kali temple. I had recently returned from living in an ashram in the Bahamas, where I had spent a year and a half subsumed in practice, seriously considering renouncing the world as a Brahmachari (a Vedic or Hindu monk).
Having been away from writing for years, at the time I had only worked as a celebrity journalist with contracts at numerous glossy magazines, a career I was extremely grateful to have stumbled into, because I hadn't gone to college. I wanted to write about the temple and assumed nobody at any of the publications I knew would let me, but maybe the Weekly would? The way I heard it, he told Laurie the paper would be “lucky to have me.”
So Seven, then known as Shamala at the ashram, was able to write for the first time about something other than Hollywood, celebrities and trends. This changed my life in a meaningful way. It allowed me to change my voice and develop my writing. Soon I was writing cover stories for the Weekly about young political activists trying to save the planet, child actors who had moved here for pilot season and the underage music scene.
Eventually Laurie gave me my own column. I was historically slow getting covers in and sometimes wouldn't even turn them over to her — like the year I spent with a Krishna family or another writing about all the elephants living in captivity in America. Laurie said if my pieces were shorter, maybe she “could have me in the paper more.”
She even let me do it bimonthly, instead of every week. “24/Seven” (cleverly named by then–deputy editor Joe Donnelly) ran here for some five years, with Laurie serving as my editor most of that time. It allowed me to have an incredible relationship to my city, the people who live here and Laurie, who was a perfect editor for me. It was an experience I cherish.
I wanted to bring my spiritual practice into my writing, and I was inspired by something I heard Ram Dass say: that the only way to create change is “from heart to heart to heart.” I was allowed to explore the idea of capturing the hearts of my subjects, in hopes that readers would experience their own heart opening as they read, in turn creating connections across a city that people often said lacked community and depth. Like Jonathan, if I may presume, I didn't see my city that way. Maybe I was trying to grant permission to my fellows to stop and smell the roses or, perhaps more apt, the sugary scent of Mexican sweet bread wafting through my neighborhood's streets.
For the years I wrote “24/Seven,” my life had a wonderful, almost prayerful purpose. I started most mornings exploring the city looking for subjects doing interesting things, hoping to share with readers the beauty and, yes, God within the everyday, the non-famous. I wrote about guys posting flyers for their bands with push pins and Scotch tape, free spirits at the Venice drum circle, stoners dressed in pink pushing pink bikes with flat tires down the street on Valentine's Day, money-obsessed 13-year-olds hanging out at the Koreatown Plaza, talking punk-rock stuffed animals, perfectly average hipsters, young soldiers at the Greyhound station heading off to Camp Pendleton.
Strangers would often stop me to tell me how much they loved the column; humbling and wonderful, this allowed me to feel that authentic connection I was hoping to provide. I share this with you to give a taste, pun acknowledged, of what Jonathan did for me personally.
Jonathan's loss is vast for L.A., the writing and food communities at large, readers, eaters, longtime foodies and those who recently, over the last decade, got on board, and also for everyone who has ever lived, worked or visited in our city. He changed the landscape. He showed us how to explore, live, enjoy life; respect ingredients, kitchens, the people who make our food and the cultures they come from.
He democratized fine dining and gave people permission to seek dining experiences that were exceptional, saving a whole class of people who basically have lunch for a living from a hell of a lot of soulless, unnecessarily expensive meals. He was a teacher, explorer and topographer; an exceptionally generous, unique human, talent and voice. There was nothing common or pretentious about him at all; he was as rare, beautiful and authentic as his surname indicated. He loved his city, people, strangers, food, music and his family. His own writing lifted the free press to the highest of heights and his casual generosity allowed me the opportunity to have one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
*It can be noted that I waited until the last hour to turn this piece in and, in that time, found it important to cook a passable corn soup with fresh fennel and kitchen staples, and an exceptional dinner of grocery store steak, frozen peas and organic Finley Farm carrots for my spoiled springer spaniel.