GROWING UP, WE ALL GET ADVICE, and the piece that has stayed with me since I was seventeen came from my high school guidance counselor, Fr. Corcoran: “Be a Renaissance man.” At seventeen I didn’t get it. Today it makes a lot more sense to me to be interested in, and take part in, a wider world than yourself.

City of Gold is the documentary from Laura Gabbert about Pulitzer Prize winning author, and L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold, now playing at the Landmark Century Centre theater. The film is a journey that takes us throughout Los Angeles, where we not only discover new restaurants but the cultural tapestry that makes L.A. what it is today.

[su_youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEpzSky7PuE” width=”700″]

When I asked Gold why he agreed to this project, he told me, “I’ve been saying no to stuff for years. We all get this stuff about reality show judges. Laura sorta wore me down.”

The pair met thanks to a local school fundraiser’s silent auction offering “Dinner with the Critic.” Laura said, “I was bidding against another woman and it got competitive, but I was not letting go.” When I asked how much she paid, neither one could recall—but they were glad to have raised a lot of money for the school. The next school year it turned out their kids ended up going to the same school, and Jonathan said, “Saying no over the phone or email isn’t hard, but it gets hard to tell someone no when you see them every day in the school drop-off line.”

Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold

That meeting led to a four year journey of pulling back the curtain a little bit on the life of the food critic, Jonathan Gold. You quickly feel the connection Gold has with his fellow L.A. dwellers. We see how he loves sharing what the city offers. You sense his curiosity to find new places, dishes and parts of L.A. You see his sense of humor, as we drive with him in his pickup, talking about the dishes at this restaurant or that—some good and some not so good.

One of the more interesting revelations in the film is his commitment to the number of visits to a restaurant, before he’ll review. “The standard for most major dailies’ budgets today is, you have to go three times. I usually end up going four, sometimes five. It’s not like seeing a movie where it will be the same next week. Restaurants change and if you want to eat through the menu and find out what are the good and bad things… you really have to have to take the time.”

 

“If someone doesn’t go the five times, or even three times, can you call that a valid review?”

“You can consider that a valid report. If the time comes that my newspaper wants reports instead of reviews… you know what. I can’t even imagine that. I wouldn’t keep doing it.”

Being who he is, with the prestige of a Pulitzer, I asked him, “Do you think that would change if you left?”


Do a blog. Care about it. Participate in social media. Everybody interesting is on Twitter these days.


“I know before that the critic I replaced was having restraints put on her and they wanted one review every two weeks. Which seems ludicrous, L.A. is so big. They let me do my job and give me the tools to do that,” said Gold. He does his research, and the movie shows him consulting a botany book on the chilis of Chengdu China. His level of focus, commitment and integrity is what draws the respect from the restaurant community, as we hear from various chefs throughout the movie.

But just because Gold is accomplished, it doesn’t make him the easiest to work with. Gabbert captures what it means to be his editors (which, in one case, also means being his wife), and you feel for their angst, frustration, and what they know it takes to get the story.

 

 

jgold7

GOLD ISN’T ONLY FOCUSED ON THE HIGH END like so many critics. His parents were from Chicago, and he tells how his father held the Chicago Hot Dog as sacred. He wants people to leave the movie learning a little more about L.A., and not to be so nervous about their neighbors.

There’s also more to Jonathan Gold than just food. In the movie, we learn he’s an accomplished cellist who attended UCLA and was in a punk rock band. He also was in the studio when Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg recorded their first album. Jonathan embodies the advice I got so long ago—he is a Renaissance man.

As our time wrapped up, I asked him if he had any advice for people in the next food writer, Instagram generation. “Do a blog. Care about it. Participate in social media. It’s easy. Everybody interesting is practically on Twitter these days. If you do a great post, people will see it,” is the final wisdom he shared.

For anyone working in or around this industry in any way, I hope you take the time to see this movie. I left the theatre hungry—and humbled.

See Michael Gebert’s interview with Jonathan Gold and Lara Gabbert here.

 


Joe Campagna is a former chef and restaurant general manager. He lives in Chicago and writes the blog “Chicago Food Snob.” You can find him on various social media @chifoodsnob.


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