City of Gold

CITY OF GOLD, doc­u­men­tary, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, Vi­o­let Crown, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Food writ­ers Jonathan Gold and Ruth Re­ichl are eat­ing fried grasshop­pers. “If we’re go­ing to sur­vive as a species,” Re­ichl pro­claims, for one thing, we’re go­ing to have to get over our pho­bia of in­sects as food. That idea — that “the great hu­man ill is con­tempt prior to in­ves­ti­ga­tion” — beats just be­low the sur­face of this ac­ces­si­ble, en­light­en­ing doc­u­men­tary by Laura Gab­bert, which pro­files Los An­ge­les-based Gold, the only food critic thus far to win a Pulitzer.

If you saw the 2007 an­i­mated film Rata­touille, you’ll re­mem­ber the lanky, acer­bic, ar­ro­gant restau­rant critic An­ton Ego. Gold is quite the op­po­site of that: plain­spo­ken, un­pre­ten­tious, well-in­formed, and gen­er­ous (both of body and of spirit), a cham­pion of the taco truck, the hot dog stand, and the strip-mall curry house. “His em­pa­thy level is higher than any­one else’s,” claims chef David Chang.

Gab­bert ac­com­pa­nies Gold as he nav­i­gates the streets of Los An­ge­les in his pickup truck, vis­it­ing Tehrange­les, Lit­tle Ethiopia, Kore­atown, and his fa­vorite spots for Thai cof­fee, mole, doro wat, and less-than-tempt­ing ob­scu­ri­ties like slime eel. We spy on him from the next room as he writes on his lap­top. We also meet his wife, edi­tor Lau­rie Ochoa, and their two chil­dren. We learn a lit­tle about his up­bring­ing and his love of clas­si­cal music (he played cello from a young age) as well as hip-hop and punk. The film is loose, re­laxed, and ad­mir­ing, which means it’s also short on emo­tional stakes. The clos­est it comes to con­flict is re­veal­ing that Gold is a first-rate pro­cras­ti­na­tor. His edi­tors tes­tify to the “psy­chotic lev­els of email and phone and text ha­rass­ment” re­quired to get him to meet his dead­lines.

Sure, Gold sits down for meals with bud­dies who also hap­pen to be culi­nary lu­mi­nar­ies (Peter Mee­han, Re­ichl, and Calvin Trillin), and he vis­its some high-end restau­rants as well. (Watch for the an­gry-pan­icked twitch on the face of chef Ludo Le­feb­vre when Gold walks into Trois Mec. It’s price­less.) But this film — and Gold — aren’t re­ally in­ter­ested in a story of Tin­sel­town or La-La-Land. Rather, this is a para­ble of Los An­ge­les as a mi­cro­cosm of Amer­ica and the Amer­i­can dream. It’s a med­i­ta­tion on cul­ture and co­ex­is­tence — which, in­ci­den­tally, could be the source of its ap­peal to the non-food-ob­sessed in the au­di­ence.

“We are all strangers, to­gether,” Gold rhap­sodizes, adding that what many peo­ple don’t un­der­stand about his city is “the mag­ni­tude of what’s here, the huge num­ber of … cul­tures that live in the city who come to­gether in this beau­ti­ful and hap­haz­ard fash­ion.” L.A. is — and by ex­ten­sion, the U.S. can be — a place where first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant Amer­i­cans can start busi­nesses, raise their chil­dren, and send them to school so they can be­come doc­tors or busi­ness­peo­ple or what­ever else they dream of be­ing. Gold talks about a place that’s “less a melt­ing pot than a great glit­ter­ing mo­saic.” That sounds like some­where I want to live. — Lau­rel Glad­den

Just can’t get enough: Jonathan Gold

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