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I Served Jonathan Gold, and It Changed My Life

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The critic was a gracious diner and a cheerleader for LA storytellers

Writer Mona Holmes circa 1999
Writer Mona Holmes circa 1999
Mona Holmes

While working as a production assistant at public news radio station KPCC in 1999, I pitched the following idea to Larry Mantle, who hosts the daily talk show Air Talk that covers local news, politics, science, entertainment, and arts: bring in Jonathan Gold to speak about food in Los Angeles.

Mantle gave me the nod, and Gold loved the idea. It was the first time both connected on-air, and I hoped they could continue this collaboration far beyond my time at KPCC. I listened to the segment on the drive from the Pasadena studio to Border Grill in Santa Monica, and the two hit it off famously. It was a simple and lively discussion, where Mantle asked for recommendations, and Gold just gave the best stories about eating all over Los Angeles.

Though I spent long hours at KPCC, I spent even more time making ends meet by working as a server at Susan Feniger’s and Mary Sue Milliken’s restaurants Border Grill in Santa Monica and the now defunct Ciudad in Downtown Los Angeles, where Gold was a fixture. His family maintained a close relationship with Feniger and Milliken, so I always either served food to Gold, or stopped by his table for a friendly chat whenever they came in. In each encounter, Gold remembered my name, and the names of the front of the house staff. He wasn’t just interested in chefs or owners, and it was pretty surprising to see him make small talk with the service staff.

For those on the restaurant’s front lines, Gold’s presence caused more high blood pressure and stress than they’re willing to admit. In the same aforementioned radio segment, Gold shared a story about a fearful restaurant that claimed to run out of food, just to avoid a write up from the critic. This panic was unnecessary. If they really knew him, they would have known that Gold was simply a guy who loved food and LA. He wasn’t out to destroy the place.

Just before I left KPCC in 1999, I recall him coming into Ciudad with wife Laurie Ochoa, and daughter Isabel. Gold asked if I was going to tell more stories about food. He waited for my answer, and for the first time in my life, I actually considered a future in food writing. While my thoughts were racing, I had no answer for him that day.

Gold made me envision beyond the busy life where I was putting in long days just to make ends meet. He asked me a simple question, but he made me dream towards the bigger picture, where a production assistant can tell food stories as a career. Gold planted the initial seed, and I immediately took cues from his playbook: to learn what restaurants and bars mean to communities.

Gold and I hadn’t spoken since that moment in 1999. I had always planned to talk with him about how I initially took the leap into music writing, food blogging, and freelancing at LA Weekly, before taking up a position as a reporter at Eater Los Angeles in August 2017. I finally had the opportunity to answer his question, and tell food stories in LA.

I like to look at parts of the city that are often neglected or overlooked, and Gold is the reason for that. I wrote about the community impact of places like Simply Wholesome thanks to him. Gold didn’t know this, but his approach encouraged me to seek out the stories behind under appreciated Long Beach spots, soul food restaurants, LGBTQ bars, and even a Mexican-inspired craft brewery.

After that gracious interaction with Jonathan Gold, I’ll always regret not writing an email, or making that call to thank him. But that gentle encouragement was enough to change my life.

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