If you spend any time reading about the restaurant industry in Los Angeles you have, at some level, Amy Scattergood to thank. The current food editor of the Los Angeles Times has been a driving force in the scene for the better part of a decade, shaping the way just about everyone here gets their daily restaurant news.
If you’re not intimately familiar with Scattergood’s work, that’s okay. She’s a behind-the-scenes type, perennially camera shy and almost molecularly averse to media coverage in her own name. That’s not to say she’s afraid of tackling the bigger subjects and leaving her byline behind as a calling card. It’s just that, for her, there are always more important things to be talking about than herself.
Scattergood started her culinary writing journey officially with the Times in the mid-2000s, but had an entire other life before her late-season turn to the food world. “I started at the Times because, as part of my own midlife crisis, I went to cooking school at 40,” says Scattergood over coffee at Grand Central Market. “So I ended up at the Times as an unpaid test kitchen intern, cooking stock or whatever.”
That didn’t last long. With degrees from Yale Divinity School and the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop (plus a new Cordon Bleu degree under her belt), Scattergood quickly found herself face to face with the Times food editor Leslie Brenner, right in the paper’s test kitchen.
“Brenner came into the kitchen, and she was looking at my resume and said ‘Okay, you’ve got a couple of masters degrees, including one from the best writing program in the country. You’ve written a book. What are you doing right now?’ And I told her I’m chopping carrots.”
Three weeks later, Scattergood had her first cover story for the Times.
In 2009, Scattergood jumped to LA Weekly after an offer from Jonathan Gold’s wife Laurie Ochoa came through for her to head up the food coverage for the alt weekly paper. By the time Scattergood had made the transition Ochoa had been let go, leading to an awkward first encounter with the paper and its own beloved food critic: Jonathan Gold.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the pair to click. Scattergood has been described by many as the Jonathan Gold Whisperer (“That’s what my boss calls me”), the point person for LA’s most beloved, but occasionally mercurial, food voice. Even today, with the pair joining forces back at the LA Times again in 2014, Scattergood is the contact to call when Gold misses a deadline, or jaunts off to some pastrami-making factory for half a day without telling a soul. What’s her secret? “Jonathan and I mostly don’t talk about food. We talk about the Lakers or James Joyce, which is way more fun than work sometimes. And I really like the guy. That helps.”
Today, Scattergood’s role has moved even more into the background. As an overseer of not only the Times restaurant coverage but also its test kitchen, she continues to affect the way that diners (both in the home and outside of it) see the city and ingredients they are surrounded by. Scattergood’s rise through publications like LA Weekly mirror LA’s own upturn in the eyes of the national food literati. As Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ truck was canvassing the streets, Scattergood was behind a laptop, covering it all.
She has always had a focus on the people and the plates of food more than the ins and outs of the business side of the restaurant world. It’s a similar language born of her culinary school days, she says, and an easy way to find common ground. “If you are interested in food from a culinary angle, and you like a chef or a restaurant, you can converse with a chef just based on what they cook. You don’t care if they were on television, or that persona aspect, as much as what’s on the plate and where it came from.”
So what’s next? In a way, more of the same. Scattergood remains the overseer of the Times food empire, a silent arbiter of its news and musings across the industry. She still keeps Jonathan Gold on track, and still checks in Wednesdays at the Santa Monica Farmers Market with the chefs she has come to know over the course of her career. They talk about politics some, and produce more. Mostly, she’s looking forward to another year of quietly pushing the conversation forward.
“There’s the important stuff this year, like immigration and what’s really happening to the people who are cooking our food. I think the task for all of us, in whatever genre we are writing, is to translate that to the page because it’s incredibly important. How we do that, I don’t know yet.”