Are you a “foodie“? Do you live in the Los Angeles area? Are you a regular reader of the L.A. Times? If you answered yes to all three questions, then you have probably heard of acclaimed food critic Jonathan Gold. I recently watched City of Gold which I initially thought was just a documentary about Gold and his culinary adventures. However, as I was watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that its focus was not solely on the Pulitzer-winning writer and his favorite restaurants; City of Gold also reveals Gold’s love for Los Angeles and how he has essentially experienced the diversity and vastness of the city through food.
As the film follows Gold on his drives across Los Angeles in his pickup truck, it shows how knowledgeable and passionate Gold is about L.A., its neighborhoods, and history. He is clearly not just someone who knows and loves food. He also comes across as a man who pays attention to the physical context in which the eateries are located and cares about the individuals who own and operate them. It is interesting that Gold frequents and features many hole-in-the-wall eateries and food trucks in his reviews, rather than upscale or fancy restaurants. This is probably appropriate given that Gold appears to be rather down to earth and exhibits a profound appreciation for more common foods like tacos and hotdogs which some may consider to be unworthy of a food critic of his stature.
As an urban planner, I was impressed that the documentary included easy-to-read maps to identify the locations that Gold visited, including (but not limited to) eateries in Alhambra, El Monte, Hollywood, Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles, and along Pico Boulevard. I also appreciated that Gold ventured to the San Gabriel Valley where a great number and variety of Asian restaurants can be found and where I frequently go for a taste of home, i.e. the Cantonese food that I grew up eating in Hong Kong. I can see some San Gabriel Valley restaurants may come across less welcoming to visitors and perhaps even intimidating because their signage and/or menus are primarily in Chinese. Gold did not appear to have encountered this problem; instead, he seemed to be very well-received by the staff at the Sichuan restaurant he dined at, probably because they recognized him as a food critic.
As further proof that City of Gold is not just about food and should appeal to those in the planning profession, the film even includes appearances by Michael Dear, a professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley. Specifically, Dear refers to Gold’s work as “culinary mapping” which makes sense considering the wide variety of eateries, neighborhoods, and cultures that the food critic writes about and exposes his readers to. Also interesting to note is that the documentary introduces the audience to Gold’s brother, Mark Gold, who was the president of the environmental group Heal the Bay and is currently the associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA. As someone who drives around a gas-guzzling and polluting pickup truck, Jonathan Gold was almost sheepish when he introduced his brother as an environmentalist. While Mark did ridicule Jonathan by saying “”I have to be an environmentalist, because Jonathan’s eating everything I’m trying to save,” he also gave the writer extraordinaire credit for authoring an editorial that helped to get California’s ban on shark fin passed.
As someone who enjoys good food and loves Los Angeles for all its greatness and flaws, I truly enjoyed watching City of Gold and learning more about Jonathan Gold. While most may only know him as that L.A. Times food critic, I think he should first and foremost be recognized for his love for Los Angeles and his unique ability to express that passion in his writing and his exploration of the city and region’s culinary offerings. If you are an Angeleno, foodie, planner, and/or aspiring writer, I highly encourage you to watch this entertaining and feel-good documentary. For a preview, please visit this site.
Photo credit: Screenshots from http://cityofgolddoc.com/
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.