Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic based in Los Angeles, tells the story of the City of Angels through its food. Now, Gold’s quest to find the next best culinary hot spot—a job he’s done for decades—is portrayed in City of Gold, a new documentary from Laura Gabbert now in theaters.
“The idea of celebrating the glorious mosaic of the city on somebody else’s dime,” Gold says of his job in the film’s trailer, “I kept feeling as if I was getting away with something.”
In 2012, Tablet’s Joan Nathan profiled Gold when he made the move from writing about food (and music, among other topics) for L.A. Weekly to the Los Angeles Times. In the article, Gold talks about his Jewish heritage, which has long been an integral part of his identity but not always for its palate-satisfying properties. For Gold, food is an entry point into exploring cultural diversity—particularly in Los Angeles.
“I grew up in the most Reform family possible,” Gold told me. “My dad’s idea of being Jewish was dropping us off at religious school and reading the newspaper. My father always felt more Jewish in the delis than he did in the shul. Sundays were deli day at Junior’s or Canter’s.”
As a young boy, Gold wanted to be a poet, but his other calling kept getting in the way. “Half the poems were about food,” he recalled with a laugh.
Gold, whom the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott called “a genial walrus of a man with a graying ginger mane and a gentle, gaptoothed smile,” loves to write as much as he loves to eat. When his effort to become a professional chef didn’t work out, he decided to combine his two passions—food and the written word—in a way that kept him sated in his professional (and personal) life.
Folk legend is that Gold eats seven meals a day. “That is urban myth,” he said. But he admitted that when he is writing about small Chinese restaurants in one area of L.A., he might try dishes from four or five restaurants in one evening before figuring out which one to review. He also has been known to take four hours for lunch, return home, and be ready for a big dinner.
A good review from Gold can make or break small, lesser-known restaurants. But being a food connoisseur does not make him a food snob. The bulk of the City of Gold chronicles the film’s protagonist in his Dodge truck as he drives between the neighborhoods he has loved (and, due to tide of change, lost) around Los Angeles proper.
When asked what he made his wife, Laurie Ochoa, former editor of L.A. Weekly, and his children—Isabel, 17, and Leon, 9—for breakfast the day I spoke with him, he answered in a fashion that seemed to sum up everything about a Jewish foodie in Southern California: “Chilaquiles, basically eggs with leftover corn tortilla chips stirred with a little salsa and finished off with Mexican sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped herbs. We call it Mexican matzo brei.”