Jonathan Gold is used to asking the questions. The restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times has made a 30-year career of weaving captivating tales about food (and music) and the people who make it.
But the roles were reversed after filmmaker Laura Gabbert convinced the dry-witted and brilliant storyteller to allow cameras to follow him as he explored the diverse dining landscape of his native Los Angeles for the documentary “City of Gold.”
What happens when the examiner becomes the examined?
“It was more than slightly weird,” Gold said recently by phone. “It’s kind of fun to be on the other side, though, I guess. I recommend it. If you have a chance, you should try it.”
Cute sentiment, but something tells me when the history of film is written, the list of documentaries about individual journalists will be a short one.
Gold, whose 2007 Pulitzer Prize is the only one ever awarded to a food critic, is more than just a journalist, though. He’s a cultural anthropologist who uses food as a lens through which to examine the myriad cultural influences of Los Angeles. He responds with modesty to the classification.
“Other people call what I do cultural anthropology; I’m just a restaurant critic,” Gold said. “I don’t put a higher meaning on what I do.”
Gold is demure in his rejection of the label, but Gabbert’s film, which shows the critic giddily bouncing from Mexican to Korean restaurants, reveals the critic as a deeply informed lover of food who serves as a conduit between cooks and diners. He investigates and interprets the food, its provenance and cultural context, and then teaches and entertains his readers.