FIRSTWEFEASTJanuary 09, 2015
In the history of Los Angeles food criticism, everyone is eating the crumbs off Jonathan Gold’s table. Aptly described as the “high-low priest” by writer Dana Goodyear, L.A.’s longtime food scribe for the LA Weekly and now L.A. Times changed the course of eating habits by recasting a trove of outlying immigrant restaurants into heroes of the city’s dining scene. Gold had a knack for tracking down seafood pancakes in Koreatown, or chicken-neck tacos in East L.A., and a talent for making a sprawling city bond over its culinary diversity. As he exposed delicious hole-in-the-walls, drawing attention to lesser known places, he inspired a generation of bloggers to do the very same.
No obscure question seems to phase him on his weekly live chat. Maybe that’s because Gold’s job requires him to eat at anywhere in the range of 300 to 500 restaurants a year—an impressive feat, but nowhere near enough if you consider that Koreatown alone has the highest concentration of restaurants per square mile in the country.
One man can’t do it all by himself, which is why the voice of L.A. food relies on a small network of hand-selected tipsters fittingly named JGold Scouts (who in effect freelance for the L.A. Times). These distinguished members are the substitute eyes, ears, legs—and bellies—of Gold. Loosely speaking, each reporter focuses on a specific culinary beat in different (or sometimes overlapping) areas (i.e., Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley, or Mexican in East L.A.) and are tasked to submit brief informational restaurant reports. The recruits themselves fall all over the spectrum. Some got their start in the food world as independent bloggers; others are published authors and Yelper Elite. Most, however, are bilingual, giving them a distinct advantage when it comes to sniffing out new places and following the rumor trail.
Interactions between Gold and his recruits, for the most part, take place via Twitter and email. “There’s only been one occasion where all the scouts have gathered in a single place,” said Chinese food expert Clarissa Wei. “And that’s because a crew was filming a segment for the Jonathan Gold documentary.” Either way, the impact of being affiliated with him is undeniable. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said writer Javier Cabral, referring to the initial email he received from the L.A. Times. “Jonathan has been such a big role model for me.”
We’re dying to know though: How did they land on Gold’s radar? What was it about these people that made them stand out? We ask five scouts about their background in food, the tactics they use to find new places, and what it takes to be invited into the inner circle of Jonathan Gold.
Note: Only recently was the title JGold Scout dropped (although the roles remain the same), primarily due to functionality issues on the L.A. Times website. According to editor Russ Parsons: “The reason we dropped the name was because there was no advantage to using it in our new blogging platform. Originally, we’d hoped that it would be a linking device (if you clicked the title, you’d connect with other reporters), but the platform doesn’t use that.”