To the editor:
I read Dana Goodyear’s profile of the chefs behind the Los Angeles restaurant Animal (“Killer Food,” 4/26/10) with pleasure. A few responses came up in the wake of my enjoyment of the piece, however, and I’d like to share them with you, mostly as a form of procrastination as I messily scarf a container of Pad Thai over my keyboard (“iPad Thai”) here in the empty Sunday-afternoon office
Goodyear’s piece is filed in the magazine’s “Letter from California” section, and it serves its designation well. The reporting feels legitimately Angeleno. I recognize the L.A. Goodyear describes. Madonna’s Escalade, Canter’s deli, Benedikt Taschen. The “multicolored sleeve tattoo,” the pretty girls, the girlfriend become wife. I believed it all. I know you were worried about effectively capturing this atmosphere, and I’m telling you to stop worrying. You nailed it.
In the first scene, at the Farmer’s Market, Dotolo and Shook (what names, by the way! And good call letting them speak for themselves. A lesser writer, or perhaps a writer with fewer word-count constraints, would have allusively riffed on how “Dotolo” evokes “Dorito,” and how “Shook” invokes the early stages in the process of deep frying a foodstuff. But letting these linguistic associations reverberate in the reader’s ear without broadcasting them — like sudden phantom echoes improving the church-organ’s glissandos—was a meisterstroake) seem super stoned. I think it’s all but explicit. They’re “eating a couple of burritos” — does this mean two burritos? One each? Or more? In any case, It’s a fine ambiguity–a whole burrito, in most contexts, is already a lot of food, so the readerly tension that they may have had more than one each keeps us “hungry for more.”
But were they high at the Farmer’s Market? Or is it the case, as Emily Dickinson noted, that “We never know how high we are”? We have to wait until close to the end of the story, when they’re catering a party for Tom Munro and champagne, for Shook to ask his line cooks, who have just finished setting up: “Want to go on a long walk off a short pier?”
He grabbed a lighter and the three of them set out jauntily down the alley.
If their befuddled, munchied time in the Farmer’s Market parking lot wasn’t explicit enough, this is all the confirmation the reader needs to know that these chefs enjoy smoking marijuana. And this manner of presenting their highness allows Goodyear to elegantly telegraph the fact that her subjects smoke pot without needing to outright state as much.
However: My daughter works in catering. Is this really the message the New Yorker wants to send to my beautiful daughter? Bethany is fourteen years old and a three-time “Culver City Caterer of the Year.” Does my daughter need to be “stoned” in order to enjoy the taste of duck fat sliding down the back of her tongue?
one woman, when Shook finally had a chance to explain [what head cheese was], spat it out on the table and said, “Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years,”
and Shook’s response is self-righteous merriment, how am I supposed to feel when I realize with a slow shock that the woman depicted in this scene is unequivocally my ultraorthodox wife of thirty-two years, who began keeping kosher on the night of our wedding?
(I don’t feel like doing anything today. Literally nothing. Not working, not not working, not smoking, not not smoking, not eating, not not eating, not community service — remember what Obama said after he was elected? We all need to offer ourselves to the community. If you’ve got hands, you can squeeze a stress ball, and that’s sometimes enough to change someone’s life forever –)
I read another of Goodyear’s Letters from Los Angeles — her profile of the brilliant LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold — another hip hedonist, another man who puts the “meatlover” back into the phrase “meatlovers’ pizza” (and in turn stevedores the words meatloafers and leftovers into that one [COPYEDITOR PLEASE STET PLURAL POSSESSIVE ON “MEATLOVERS'”])– on about half an hour of sleep, still drunk, in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. I’d need to go back in order to confirm that it’s pure fucking catnip from beginning to end, but that’s my memory of the piece. I chuckled uncontrollably into my 7 a.m. cheese sandwich when, on
the day he decided to find the city’s best espresso, [Gold] travelled with David Kendrick, who was then the drummer for Devo. After twenty-seven shots, Gold—sweating, trembling, and talking too loud—met up with [his wife] Ochoa and some friends for dinner. He started to panic and begged the group not to get dessert. When Ochoa ordered tiramisu, he burst into tears, ran out of the restaurant, and took the bus home.
I dipped my white iPod earbuds into my airport OJ so I could smear them across the pages of Dana Goodyear’s profile of Jonathan Gold when I read this. Then I passed the earbuds through my entire digestive tract, like R. Crumb’s ascetic brother Maxon does with those long, awful strips of tape in his Tenderloin apartment in Terry Zwigoff’s perfect 1994 documentary.
But isn’t there a sense that, for all its jaunty pleasures, Goodyear’s Animal piece is just a slim salty slice cleaved off of the real cut, her now six-month-old Gold profile? I imagine I’m wrong when I imagine Jonathan Gold giving Dana Goodyear Dorito and Shake’s email addresses, or even just telling her they’d make for a good story. L.A. is big. So is Mario Batali. It’s not magic that Goodyear happens to be in the restaurant when Batali, several other chefs, Mike Mills (I listened to Reckoning last night twice through, incidentally. Wotta gem), et al come in to Animal for the story’s conclusion. She knows the ID of everyone in Batali’s nine-person party, down to their “magician.” So she must have come in with them. She wasn’t just sitting alone at a table before an untouched bowl of curried duck hearts waiting for New Yorker–worthy guests to walk in. I’d like to know: Was it awkward for Goodyear to get up from this crowded table and follow the waiter back to the kitchen with their order?
With respect and admiration,
Sasha H DeGwiid
San Francisco, Calif.