My writing career includes hundreds of restaurant reviews but not one single movie review, ever.
But I am compelled to write about a movie I saw on Wednesday called ‘City of Gold’. The movie has to do with food; what else might one expect. It also has to do with food criticism, specifically Jonathan Gold, who is no doubt, the top food critic in the country. (Sorry Pete Wells, but when you win the Pulitzer Prize as Gold did in 2007, any argument is moot.)
I actually met Gold, probably in 2006, just as I was beginning my career as a restaurant critic. Jon Rowley, known for his life-long passion and promotion of oysters, had emailed me after I’d written about oysters. He wanted to know if I would like to come to Los Angeles to take part in his annual, Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.
The competition deserves a whole posting itself, but in short it’s a month long event where West Coast wines are paired with oysters to see which pair best. Sadly, I can’t seem to find info about this year’s contest so I think it’s a thing of the past. It took place in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Judges were chefs, restauranteurs and food writers. I was lucky to get to participate. Mary Sue Millikan, Russ Parsons and Jonathan Gold were some of the other judges. My only regret is that I really didn’t know who Gold as at the time. But he stood out. His mere presence was impressive. And when he talked, everybody listened.
But back to the movie.
‘City of Gold’ chronicles Gold’s career and his travels through the city. Gold is credited with highlighting all those little places in neighborhoods all over the LA area. Most are ethnic spots: Mexican, Ethiopian, Korean and the like. Interviews with the restaurant owners are a big part of the film. All speak of how Gold gets their food, how he appreciates the culture and the people and, in some cases, how his review made the difference between closing the doors and total success.
The cinematography is stunning. From aerial shots of the city to ground photos taken from Gold’s truck to steamy kitchens to tiny dining rooms to plate after plate of bright, juicy, colorful dishes, the soul of the city is captured.
Fortunately, I went with a group of former Angelinos, who had eaten some of the places featured.
Gold’s family and home were also in the movie. His wife, Laura Ochoa, an editor at the LA Weekly, where Gold worked for years, adds unique insight. Their relationship was great to watch. Their admiration for each other is obvious. Their kids are there. One thing that struck all of us though were the books that could be found throughout the house. Not just on shelves, but stacked high on the floor, on tables, literally everywhere.
The filmmakers also interview a star-studded array of big name food people: David Chang of the Momofuku Empire; Calvin Trillin, one of the gurus of food writing; Ruth Reichl; Peter Meehan, editor of ‘Lucky Peach’; David Sax, who wrote ‘Save the Deli’ and ‘The Tastemakers’ and other food industry luminaries.
They all held high praise for Gold commenting on his insight, creativity and passion. It’s clear he is well-respected by his peers.
And the interviews with Gold himself? For me, as a food writer, they were inspiring. I could identify with some of the things he said about reviewing.
The film ends with him reading one of his older columns at a bookstore in Los Angeles. The piece was deep and touching as is the whole film.
I highly recommend seeing ‘City of Gold’.
PS the photo of Gold is taken from the LATIMES; the others are mine.