What happens when Los Angeles’ top food critic realizes he can’t be everywhere at once? He hires out for some help.
It’s no secret that Jonathan Gold has long relied at least partially on the intel of others to determine his next move. And that’s not to take away from the prolific eater and writer; this city has thousands of restaurants spread across miles and miles. With only one column a week (plus the occasional round-ups and blogging duties) it’s no small feat to coalesce the food landscape into usable info for the masses.
Enter Gold’s stable of in-the-know eaters. HIs food guides, each with their own expertise and angle, help to define the ever-changing dining world for Gold, and make it a priority to get to places and make discoveries on a regular basis. First We Feast put together a guide to this not-so-clandestine group, from what got them into Gold’s twitter timeline to their personal cuisine predilections. Here are ten great takeaways.
Gold’s Not Above Giving Grocery Shopping Advice: Forget restaurant advice; Gold once bemoaned a scout’s choice of grocery store, and told her to check out the Armenian-leaning Super King instead.
Being Bilingual is Key: Most, if not all, of Gold’s scouts speak a language other than English, giving them clearer access to out-of-the-way restaurant destinations and letting them dig deeper into interesting stories.
Write What you Know: Most scouts, like Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee and occasional Eater contributor Clarissa Wei, have some previous expertise in their field of choice. Wei studied abroad in Shanghai and wrote about American food while there, and Lee’s Eating Korean book was among the first Korean-American food bibles out there.
Get Yourself a Celebrity Connection: Several scouts made it onto J. Gold’s radar after first being hit up by big names in the food industry. Clarissa Wei gained lots of followers after giving a personal tour of the SGV to Andrew Zimmern, and Cathy Chaplin previously helped out Bourdain’s production crew while in Vietnam.
Everyone Does Things Differently: Whether refreshing the Yelp app or driving around at midnight, each scout has their own way of discovering the next best thing. Most agree that you have to dig deep though; there are plenty of middling dining experiences out there, and it can be a slog to find the noteworthy meals.
The Man Himself Remains Elusive: Only once have all the scouts been in one place with the Goldster at the same time — while filming a scene for his upcoming documentary. Most converse with the man via twitter, text or email.
He Still Has the Power: Despite being an extension of the food coverage for Gold (officially, these scouts freelance for the Times), most are still a little star-struck at the critic. "On occasion, he’ll even like some of my Facebook posts and I’m still, like, "whoa"," says Korean scout Steph Cha.
Legacy Matters: Every one of Gold’s foot soldiers takes their job seriously, because they know what it means to have the man vouching for them. "Being a scout means you’re carrying Jonathan Gold’s legacy," says Mexican food scout Javier Cabral. "So you have to be selective and cutthroat."
Talking to the Staff is Key: Lots of discoveries are made by asking servers, busboys and cooks where they like to eat. More often than not, those are the plugged-in folks that want to eat well when they’ve got some free time, so it’s a good idea to follow their lead.
Don’t Expect to Always Eat Well: Cabral shares a moment he had with Gold, when discussing the dark side of the job. "He said for every good meal, you’re going to eat at least 10 bad ones." Truer words…