When an average Joe thinks of food criticism, a few adjectives probably come to mind right off the bat: snobby, elitist, out of touch, pretentious, and so on. That’s because we average Joes might enjoy some Michelin-approved fine dining now and then, but we know that no amount of pomp and circumstance can compare to the down-home feel of a family-run ethnic food joint. Maybe the recipes aren’t cultivated in culinary academies and high-profile apprenticeships, but there’s at least a few generations of accrued wisdom going in to each slice and dollop, along with the famous pizca de amor that only a mom-and-pop operation can do just right.
Perhaps that’s why Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold is a bit of a revolutionary. Eschewing the traditional five star dining experience for strip malls and holes in the wall, Gold earned himself the first Pulitzer Prize for food criticism by virtue of his honest, unpretentious, and eye-opening take on the genre. And of course, every revolutionary deserves a documentary.
City of Gold was directed by Laura Gabbert and follows Gold through his daily ritual of surprise visits to a series of unassuming L.A. Mexican, Salvadoran, East African, and Southeast Asian spots, while he waxes philosophical on the inclusive ethic that drives his work. Glowing interviews with top chefs only further cement Gold’s unique position within the food world, and in the end we see that food is merely a means for Gold to penetrate into the soul of a city — and by extension a country — defined by a diverse tapestry of cultures and cuisines.
Visually, City of Gold promises to be a slick and briskly edited documentary in the conventional American style, with an uplifting soundtrack that buttresses Gold’s inspiring message of cultural inclusion. Though hearing the man speak, it’s clear that even if City of Gold were shot on an iPhone and edited with a machete, Gold’s humility and good humor are more than enough for an engaging peace of filmmaking.
City of Gold opens in select theaters and On Demand March 11, 2016.