A week ago I’d not heard of Jonathan Gold. I learned of him through his Economist obituary, then about him through the documentary City of Gold. I highly recommend watching it.
Jonathan was a food critic, renowned for receiving the first Pulitzer for food criticism.
But to him food was more than a meal. It was a conduit for a person to communicate their passion, their ideas and their culture. Food was more than an object of critique: it was a vehicle for a cultural narrative, a representation of the rich intercultural tapestry that is Los Angeles.
His words provide profound insight and betray a beautiful curiosity. Of his beginnings in food criticism he said:
[I’d] sit in a place, and have my rice and beans, or my papusas, and listen to the dialogue around me, to look at the stacks of newspapers people were reading, to you know, see what was on the TV that was perpetually on in the corner. To see what people were talking about.
I gradually started to find things out that I didn’t know.
I learned this very quickly as a journalist, that if you randomly go up to somebody in the street and start talking to them, they’re probably not gonna talk to you. They’re gonna think you’re odd, or brush you off.
But if you’re doing it in a restaurant, you have a context in which to be.
So you sit down, and they’ll feed you and they’ll be nice to you, and maybe there’ll be some gossip.
It was the year I got to know Los Angeles as Los Angeles.
This willingness to be open to experiences, and the curiosity to search out constant new ones is admirable. It is a welcome presence in a suspicious world.
Perhaps the most insightful comment in the documentary, which encapsulates everything I’ve tried to say so far, was from Andrew Zimmern, a chef, author and TV host. He said,
The great human ill is contempt prior to investigation
I truly believe this. Formulating an opinion before experiencing something or someone does both sides a disservice. If this opinion is negative and demonstrates contempt, it is tragic.
The best lesson taught by Jonathan, then, is to approach life with curiosity and to be receptive to the lessons it will teach.
The second best lesson is not to watch City of Gold on an empty stomach..!