It’s been almost three months since Jonathan died. I miss him very much. This is not a proper obit. For that, read Andrew’s In Memoriam over at the AML blog. Rather, it’s a tribute about just one particular facet of his life and personality. This originally appeared in a book of memories put together by the Langford family.
There are so many things I could write about Jonathan, but I think that for this particular tribute I want to focus on him as a critic because it captures one of the wonderful things about him. That is: Jonathan was an amazing critic because he had well-informed tastes that were particular to him, and he was always very honest about what worked for him and what didn’t and why.
I thought about using some examples from literature or Mormon culture, practice or doctrine, but instead I’ll go with food.
After I moved to Minnesota about ten years ago. Jonathan and I decided to get together every couple of months for lunch. Because I work in Minneapolis (and Jonathan was gracious enough to drive into the city), we had a lot of lunch places to choose from, and we could sometimes choose restaurants that we’d never be able to afford during the evening hours.
Oftentimes when you go out to eat, people will say the food is good, and that’s the extent of the conversation on that subject. But I liked to talk about the food and so was delighted to discover that, if anything, Jonathan was even more interested in and candid about food than I was.
However, he wasn’t pretentious about it. It didn’t matter what the restaurant signaled about itself, all Jonathan cared about was the food. One time we went to a kinda fancy, sorta spendy restaurant. Jonathan ordered a vegetable tart. When it arrived, it was about the size of a DVD. His verdict was that it was tasty enough–but it was not a large enough portion for the price. I had to agree. Another time, he tried a tomato soup. His verdict was that it was fine but no better than what he could make at home.
But there were also other times, where a dish would arrive, and he’d find it excellent or interesting or different or new. And then he’d try to figure out why he was responding to it so favorably or he’d compare it to other dishes he’d had. He’d take a bite then sit up straight and tilt his head back just a bit and conjure up a flavor or cooking technique or a memory or an idea for how he’d implement this new sensory experience into his own cooking. And if it was truly amazing, he’d always insist that I try it. Because when he liked something, he wanted everyone to experience it.
So that was Jonathan: always a critic. But not a snobbish, jaded, or sarcastic one. Jonathan was always generous in praise, thoughtful in critique, and quick to admit that others may have different opinions. I had the pleasure of having numerous (verbal or written) conversations with him over the years that let him showcase his wonderful skills as a critic.