For years, current Los Angeles Times dining critic Jonathan Gold -- nationally acclaimed for pioneering an ebulliently egalitarian, ethnic-oriented style of reviewing beginning in the early 1990s -- had refused offers to appear on-screen. But more recently, his professional anonymity had been compromised by photographs published online. And after getting to know documentarian Laura Gabbert (No Impact Man) over a meal at Ludovic Lefebvre’s roving L.A. pop-up LudoBites -- she’d won a dinner with Gold which he had donated to a charity auction for a school that their children both attend -- he became intrigued by her movie pitch for a perspective on the city’s uniquely diverse multiplicity through the prism of its culinary culture, with Gold serving as gustatory Virgil.
“Food is interesting -- really interesting -- but it’s not the only thing,” he says. “Too often people fixate exclusively on what’s on the plate in front of them. They don’t think about the people around them and the people who made the dish. When I go out to eat somewhere like Whittier, it’s about discovering food, but it’s also about just bringing me to Whittier," a primarily Hispanic, outlying neighborhood. "I want to know every corner of L.A., to fill out my mental map.”
Gabbert notes that although the as-yet-untitled film -- which is still in its initial stage of filming (she expects to shoot for six to nine months) and was first announced yesterday – will delve into Gold’s background and day-to-day process, “it’s not really about Jonathan. It’s a biopic of a cultural movement and he’s going to be our guide. The world we’re in today, with all of these kids blogging with very open minds about their dining experiences -- Jonathan was the forerunner.”
Adds producer Holly Becker: “These days, the world is full of foodies. Jonathan was the creator of many of them.” Becker (Me and You and Everyone We Know) has teamed with producing partner Braxton Pope (The Canyons) on the film. They previously worked together on The Source, another documentary touching on L.A. and its dining scene, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year.
For his part, Gold professes curiosity as to the portrait Gabbert will eventually assemble in her editing suite. Seeing himself on-screen, along with various experts -- food academicians and the like -- providing historical and aesthetic context for viewers will be, he observes, a unique experience of self-reflection. “It’s cheaper than seeing a shrink,” he says.