“In a lot of ways I think food is starting to take the place in culture that rock and roll took 30 years ago, in that eating has become incredibly political. And just as the street has always dictated fashions on music and other things, it’s starting to happen that way in food.” – Jonathan Gold
Is there is a special connection between the world of music and the world of food? I thought about this question as I watched “City Of Gold”, a recent documentary about the restaurant critic Jonathan Gold. There is, at the very least, something very musical about Gold himself. He grew up playing cello and listening to classical music, studied music and art in college, and began reporting on food and popular music in the mid-1980s. Since 2012 he has been the L.A. Times’ restaurant critic, publishing weekly reviews on the city’s best eateries, often focusing on little known places hidden in plain sight. “City Of Gold” brings us into Gold’s life as a critic and at home with his family. We fellow him around in his pick-up truck as he drives to strip malls for Northern Thai and food trucks for tacos, see him pitching ideas to editors at work, watch him sit super still in front of his laptop thinking but not yet typing, and eavesdrop as he talks with his kids at an art gallery. Gold always seems to be thinking about his work–while eating, while writing, while talking with others about food, while reading up on histories of regional cuisines, and of course, while driving his truck all over L.A. seeking his next culinary discovery. He comes across as both a composer and an improviser–on the one hand, taking his time, savoring essences, and planning; and on the other hand, delighting in playful, on the spot verbal quick fire. You sense that this someone at once deeply thoughtful and intuitive, following his curiosity down whatever paths they lead.
Watching Gold go about his work it struck me that writing about food is something like writing about music. Consider this: both eating and listening are evanescent encounters with passing stimuli that can conjure a spectrum of powerful sensations, feelings, and even memories. How does one write about such encounters in a way that captures their depth of feeling, gives them context, and renders their relationship to the eater or listener? Does one focus on the particulars (flavors, sounds) or on the associations they conjure? “City Of Gold” gives us a sense of how one critic goes about evaluating the intangible matters of taste by celebrating them with grace and generosity.