Movie review: Why City of Gold is the foodie flick you must see

By Peter Calder

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Jonathan Gold, looking hungry in City of Gold. (Supplied)
Jonathan Gold, looking hungry in City of Gold. (Supplied)

The pick of an excellent crop of documentaries in last winter's film festival, this is not a portrait of a restaurant critic; director Gabbert is much too smart to have settled for that.

Instead, as the title suggests, she has made a film about the City of Angels as seen through the eyes of a man who knows every thread of its cultural fabric from having eaten his way through it.

Jonathan Gold, the only restaurant critic to have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, is as good a character as a documentarian could wish for.

Massively overweight, though oddly nimble, even dainty in his movements, bald and long-haired like a freckled David Crosby, he's a former concert cellist who wrote about punk rock before taking a job "celebrating the glorious mosaic of the city on somebody else's dime".

So he drives a dark green Dodge pickup thousands of miles a year along the freeways and boulevards of southern California, mapping the cultural geography of the metropolis through its food neighbourhoods.

Gold, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times in the early 1990s and returned to it in 2012 (he's also been a fixture at Gourmet and in the music press), describes LA as "an anti-melting pot", which is to say that he celebrates its undiluted regionality for its cultural specificity.

It's a world away from the standard liberal line that smugly celebrates the ethnic colour immigration adds to the dominant culture, and it's what sees him drive all morning to find a food truck whose Salvadoran owner has tweeted about his seafood taco special.

He's no stranger to swanky joints but, as he told the New Yorker, he prefers "traditional - I hate the word 'ethnic' - restaurants that serve some actual hunger people have, rather than something they tell themselves they must have".

Jonathan Gold on the prowl in City of Gold (Supplied).
Jonathan Gold on the prowl in City of Gold (Supplied).

As he searches out a hot-dog cart; a Oaxacan hole-in-the-wall; and a place that serves American Chinese food, which is exotic to Chinese; he engages in a process of culinary mapping of the city he loves.

The film, like Gold's fresh, energetic writing, has a sweetly melancholy strand - the final scene is a standout - but it is mostly an exuberant celebration of what Gold calls "people cooking for each other". Be warned: if you go on an empty stomach, you will certainly not last the distance.

Verdict: Mouthwatering and fascinating

Lowdown

Director: Laura Gabbert

Running time: 91 mins

Rating: M (offensive language)

Verdict: Mouthwatering and fascinating.

- NZ Herald

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