Conversations with Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold, Spamburgers and Other Delights

Food critic, Jonathan Gold reads a food review of a spam restaurant in front of Ed Ruscha’s Spam painting “Near Actual Size.” By waltarrrrr via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last year I attended a presentation on the UW–Madison campus from Los Angeles Times (formerly LA Weekly) food critic Jonathan Gold. Gold is a Pulitzer-winner—the first such honor ever awarded a food critic—and many sing his praises. Madison critic André Darlington, for example, mentioned Gold among his admired food writers at a recent panel discussion. Unfortunately, Gold’s presentation skills left much to be desired; he gave a disjointed talk, cobbling together various bits from a hodgepodge of notes (including reading an extended sequence from his phone, which he has apparently done before: see the accompanying photo from an entirely different event).

Nevertheless, I was recently reminded of a transfixing conversation Gold had with Ira Glass for This American Life in 2007. It eventually wanders into the land of philosophy and morality, confronting the underlying reality of eating in a way that we seldom do in everyday life. (This in turn reminded me of a more serious version of the Lobster Farm episode of the You Look Nice Today podcast.) If you haven’t heard the Gold-and-Glass piece, I recommend it.

For a more recent conversation, check out this interview with Gold from Andrew Simmons in the September 2012 issue of The Believer. Like the TAL audio piece, it’s not really one for the kiddies, but it’s definitely thought-provoking. Here’s just a brief preview:

JG: You go to parts of Italy; Emilia-Romagna is obviously the rich country, and they don’t do so badly with it, but it’s interesting to visit non-rich places like Umbria or Liguria. I had a friend who was researching something there once. I asked her about minestrone fritto, which I’d had at a restaurant in Bologna, though it’s supposed to be from Liguria. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. She’d had it before, too, and she went to Liguria, and everybody completely denied the dish’s existence, refused to admit that anyone would ever do it. It turns out that it’s not a restaurant dish. It’s what you do with Saturday soup when it’s Tuesday and there’s nothing else in the house. To even say you’re going to have this soup—

BLVR: It’s embarrassing.

JG: It’s embarrassing, and yet that’s the sweet spot of cuisine. Bouillabaisse came about because fishermen were able to sell the dorade and so on, but then they were left with these ugly, spiny, weird things that they chose to make a soup with. It’s like: “Sorry, honey, this is all we have tonight.” Eventually, that became the cult dish of the region.

Find the full exchange here.

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