“City of Gold” Offers a Delicious Urban Lens on L.A.

"City of Gold" Offers a Delicious Urban Lens on L.A.
UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design News
30 March 2016
image: still from documentary

Highly acclaimed by critics, director Laura Gabbert’s newly released documentary, “City of Gold,” chronicles Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s deep and complex relationship with the food and culture of Los Angeles.

Michael Dear, Emeritus Professor of City and Regional Planning, served as a consultant on the film providing historical background and conceptual framing for understanding the emergence of Los Angeles as a world city. On screen, Dear’s commentary sheds light on the urban context for Gold’s culinary explorations. He explains how the rapid growth of a decenterd Los Angeles scattered new immigrants to all points on the urban map, creating the multicultural culinary fabric that weaves together diverse neighborhoods and defines the experience of the city.

Gold, who writes for The Los Angeles Times, is well-known for illuminating the hidden ethnic gastronomic treasures of Los Angeles. Though he also covers high-end establishments and emerging new chefs, his heart lies in the small, family-owned restaurants found throughout the vast sprawl of L.A. Through his writing, he’s changed the lives of immigrants who now cook the foods of their former homelands for an evermore-appreciative variety of customers. As New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott writes, “He is a Walt Whitman of taco trucks, hot-dog stands and pho parlors, of unassuming storefront and strip-mall joints that bring the flavors of the world to Southern California.”

“City of Gold” is more than just a foodie’s documentary. While the film follows the typical format, tracing the life of the beloved restaurant critic as he delights in and writes about the modest ethnic eateries across the concrete jungle, it also provides a unique means to understand the civic culture of Los Angeles through an epicurean lens.

In the film, Professor Dear uses the term “culinary mapping” to describe not only Gold’s practice of introducing Angelenos to the variety of gastronomic delights available in L.A., but also his ability to open up different ways of seeing the city. Dear explains that “by following Gold’s urban explorations, individuals inevitably begin to adjust their “mental maps” of the city. Through the experience of food production and food consumption, residents develop new perceptions and behaviors, and in so doing re-create the city around them.”

“City of Gold” premiered in competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and opened theatrically in March, 2016. It is currently showing in theaters around the Bay Area including the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.