The subject of food can be a vast topic. It not only involves familiar ingredients we use almost every day, but unique ingredients obtained in various places around the world. The most common dish can be transformed by just one of these ingredients. It would take any one of us a lifetime to sample these well-made, special dishes from their place of origin, but, as luck would have it, a city makes for a wonderful location to attract and encourage the culinary talents of many cultures. One such city is Los Angeles, or more accurately Los Angeles County, home of numerous delicacies and some of the tastiest ideas in the world. The trick is to know where to start and that’s where Jonathan Gold comes in.
In the documentary City of Gold, directed by Laura Gabbert, Jonathan Gold is a recognizable name in the restaurant world, but more specifically around Los Angeles as that is where he resides and works as a food critic for the Los Angeles Times. His knowledge of many different cuisines is without measure and he spends his days travelling the city of Los Angeles, and its neighbors, seeking out undiscovered culinary treasures.
What’s different about Jonathan Gold from other food critics is his passion for restaurants regardless of their notoriety. Rather than focus on high-end establishments with accredited menus, he is more interested in the smaller restaurants hidden within communities that have a history about them or are run by families that love to cook and bring recipes from their country to share with the city. As we follow Jonathan through his daily routine, we see the relationship he has with many restaurateurs, food truck vendors, and critics alike. All of them have a deep respect for him and his talent as a literary poet of food. It’s his brilliant writing that landed him the Pulitzer in 2007, a first for any food critic and a moment that gave more weight to the writing of critics. In a world filled with online commentators who feel their opinion is worth as much as anyone else, it’s inspiring to see genuine talent get recognition.
What this movie does well is map out which cities Jonathan goes to and what cuisines we might hope to find there. Places like Alhambra and Tehrangeles don’t stand out on their own, but with a few words from Jonathan’s reviews they can be the premiere spot for one-of-a-kind dishes. It’s the language of his reviews that garners so much respect. He explains his experiences eating the dish with a personal anecdote or some story that inspired the restaurant’s inception. He builds a symphony of smells and tastes in your head without you being there and it’s so engaging that even if the dish prepared is nowhere near what you would consider a delicious meal you are excited and intrigued all the same. I personally love any movie where the subject is about food so I had assumed going into this film that my favorite part would be the dishes and how they are prepared, but as I heard Jonathan’s reviews being read aloud I began to see what a genius storyteller and poet he is. He doesn’t embellish or disrespect, but rather showcases, in a fair way, the positive aspects of the meals and the location itself.
I enjoyed how the film dives into Jonathan Gold’s life as a concert cellist and eventually a music critic for hip hop and rap artists in the late 80’s-early 90’s. It was an abrupt departure from his classically trained upbringing, but shows even back then that Jonathan did not discern good art based on its origin. Whether it was music or food, he found a way to translate the beauty he saw, heard, or tasted into an equally elegant review that made us understand perfectly the world he just visited.
City of Gold is a magnificent documentary about Jonathan Gold and his love for great food in Los Angeles. Not only does this movie make you hungry, it makes you want to try harder not to visit a national chain restaurant for the hundredth time. There are so many cities in this country and several have a similar, yet unique version of what Los Angeles has, multi-cultural communities with specialized cuisines ready to be shared with you, if you are so inclined.
If I had to make a small critique of my own, I would have preferred more information on what inspired Jonathan’s career in writing. He had critics he looked up to, but what was it that made critic writing so appealing to him. Of course he has years of reviews we can pour over; and if you spend enough time reading the works of someone you’ll most likely develop a pretty accurate picture of who that person is. His talent for writing is obviously the main course and this film delivered that and the meals he wrote about with splendid affection. I recommend this documentary for anyone interested in food, curious about the history of Los Angeles and its people, or just wanting to be inspired by one man’s journey through the restaurants and cities of southern California and how he makes life that much brighter with a simple review.
CITY OF GOLD:[usr 4.5]
About City of Gold
Synopsis: A documentary portrait that takes us into Jonathan Gold’s universe to tell the improbable story of a revolution inspired by the pen, but driven by the palate.
Director: Laura Gabbert
Writer: Laura Gabbert
Stars: Jonathan Gold, David Chang, Roy Choi
Runtime: 1 Hour, 36 Minutes