Back in May, I was sitting at a groovy plastic red table in a super-hip Peruvian restaurant in L.A., surrounded by my husband and two dear foodie/vino friends.
The occasion: the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl. This month-long, citywide food lover’s fantasy was in full swing, and we had gathered with what felt like 10,000 other nouvelle-Andean-cuisine-loving Angelenos at Rosaliné, the small but muy fashion Peruvian restaurant, to savor a 7+ course meal created by Lima’s rock-star chef Virgilio Martinez and L.A.-based Peruvian chef and Rosaliné owner Ricardo Zarate.
We were so wrapped up in our conversation we almost forgot the reason we were there.
And therein lies the problema. Not more than 15 yards away, the late, beyond-great Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold sat atop an uncomfortable-looking barstool, interviewing His Supreme Andean Hotness, Virgilio.
At the end of the interview, the throng began squeezing out of the tiny restaurant. As for me and my group, we were preoccupied with our ghastly bar tab, which we thought had been placed by mistake on our table when in fact it should have been given to a small monarchy that had ordered 2000 cases of Vega Sicilia for a royal wedding.
Once that was settled, the next challenge was getting to the car before the meter expired. While floating out of the restaurant in a well-fed tide of humanity, we passed Mr. Gold. I could have easily stopped to say a quick hello, to tell him how much I loved his writing, to ask him to pose for a selfie. He was so close I could have reached out and touched him.
But I didn’t.
Because I was awestruck.
Because I was afraid I would sound vapid.
Because I didn’t want to bother him.
Jonathan Gold died of pancreatic cancer on July 21, almost exactly two months after I saw him at Rosaliné. Media outlets nationwide covered his passing. Chefs, personalities and food critics mourned the loss of the man who was known affectionately as “The Belly of Los Angeles.”
This past Saturday, the Los Angeles Times lit a tribute to Gold on its new building in El Segundo as the sun set. It would have been his 58th birthday. After sundown, landmarks including L.A. City Hall tower, the Wilshire Grand Center, The Broad, US Bank Tower, Natural History Museum, the pylons at LAX and Pacific Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier also were illuminated for the occasion.
The Gold-Ochoa family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Gold’s life consider supporting any of these nonprofit organizations:, , or . Friends of the Gold-Ochoa family have also created a to assist them with immediate expenses.
Another public event celebrating his life is being planned for Sunday, August 26. Details will be announced soon.
So the lesson, hard learned, boils down to a cliche that ceases to be a cliche when you lose a friend, a loved one, a person you admired from afar and once had a chance to connect with: life really is too short. It’s too short for self-doubt. It’s too short for ego. it’s too short for passing someone who has inspired you and fueled your passions and not stopping to say a quick hello.