UCLA Magazine
Jun 26 · 3 min read

UCLA 100: 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.”

Read more stories from UCLA’s century of impact.

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Covering the UCLA dreamers and game-changers who shape the world around us.

UCLA Magazine

Covering the UCLA dreamers and game-changers who shape the world around us.

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