100 Ways: L.A. Eats


Published May 14, 2019 4:08 PM

Also in this section: stories on the Hammer Museum, brain mapping, and the Olympics.

The Art of Eating

L.A. Cuisine

In 2004, the family-run Ethiopian restaurant Meals by Genet was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Then Jonathan Gold wrote “Chicken Stew for the Soul.” That review of chef Genet Agonafer’s doro wat changed everything. Chef and restaurant have thrived ever since.

From the mountains to the sea, Bruins have shaped where and what we eat. Hungry Southern Californians were guided to new dining adventures for decades by food critic Jonathan Gold, but others have also brought us new sights, sounds and tastes. Here are some favorites.

Jonathan Gold ’82

Food lovers and chefs are still mourning the loss last year of Gold, the Pulitzer Prizewinning critic who had the power to change the fate of any restaurant he wrote about. Genet Agonafer, chef/owner of the nearly 20-year-old Ethiopian bistro Meals by Genet (on Fairfax Avenue), credits Gold with her success: Her restaurant had been on the brink of bankruptcy, but after Gold’s 2004 review, business boomed. The trail of Gold-hungry followers continues today, as foodies flock to her restaurant. Therein lies Gold’s brilliant touch: He broke down barriers by writing about the vast epicurean cultures of the “glittering mosaic” that was his beloved Los Angeles.

Jonathan Gold, right.

Giada De Laurentiis ’96

When Giada De Laurentiis whips up a mushroom risotto or a batch of cocoa-dusted tiramisu, she makes it look easy. The L.A.- based, Emmy Award-winning Food Network television star, restaurateur and bestselling cookbook author was the first in her family to graduate from college. In addition to inspiring millions to cook Italian feasts at home, De Laurentiis is a particular role model for women chefs, whose ranks are growing.

Gustavo Arellano M.A. ’03

This Orange County-based journalist was editor-in-chief of the OC Weekly for six years, where he delighted readers with his award-winning syndicated column “¡Ask a Mexican!” Arellano now writes for the Los Angeles Times.But it’s his knowledge of all things tortilla that food lovers know best: Arellano is an authoritative voice on Mexican cuisine, having penned Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Arellano argues for the central position of this cuisine in the culinary identity of Los Angeles, which is why he brought Anthony Bourdain to Olvera Street for taquitos in the final L.A. episode of Parts Unknown.

T.K. Pillan M.B.A. ’96

Vegetarian dining looks different today than it did in 1996, when Veggie Grill co-founder and chairman T.K. Pillan graduated from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. At the time, Pillan noticed that options for vegetarian restaurants were relatively scarce. So after a successful career in e-commerce, the then-recently turned vegan decided — despite having no experience in the restaurant industry — to open a plant-based restaurant that would help move the country in a better direction. The first Veggie Grill opened in 2006 in Irvine, and the company is now the largest plant-based restaurant chain in the nation, with more than 30 locations. A majority of Veggie Grill customers are not vegetarian or vegan, suggesting plant-based eating has moved to the mainstream.

Evan Kleiman ’76, M.B.A. ’80

Evan Kleiman is the long-running host of the KCRW radio show and podcast Good Food, where the world’s best chefs visit. From the 1980s until 2012, Kleiman owned and operated three successful Italian restaurants in Los Angeles. She still caters privately while also teaching at UCLA on topics such as “The Moral Ecology of Food.” Whether at the podium or in the radio “pulpit,” as she calls it, her platform is unique: “I’ve always valued food as a very expansive way of looking at the world — economically, politically and culturally.”

Keeping Up with Change

UCLA Extension

Founded two years before the university, UCLA Extension has adapted to the needs of the surrounding community through the years. In the 1940s, Extension offered classes to help working engineers in aircraft design. “Night classes at UCLA” even served as an alibi for characters in the 1944 film Double Indemnity. In the 1960s, new programs prepared women for entry or reentry into the workforce.

Now 102 years old, Extension shows its age in the many famous alumni who have participated in the programs — Marilyn Monroe, James Franco ’08 and Arnold Schwarzenegger are just a handful of the many former students who have gone on to achieve notoriety.

But UCLA Extension isn’t old in most senses, because it keeps up with the needs of the ever-changing communities around L.A. and works to reflect what is needed to push academic excellence forward. Instead of just letting students come to campus, Extension reaches out to underserved areas in a more proactive effort to achieve diversity and inclusion.

Offering more than 100 certificate programs in 20 different fields, Extension courses let a variety of interests take center field for nontraditional students through online classes, pop-up courses and partnerships with local businesses, such as the Hispanic ad agency Sensis and the Korea Daily newspaper.

Extension has offered classes in downtown Los Angeles since 2008 and in Woodland Hills since 2017, and it has also partnered with the DaVinci Schools to create a 13th- and 14th-year online/classroom hybrid for graduating high school seniors.