By Justin Mallette
On an overcast evening last March, I was heading over to watch a documentary for one of my Writing classes when I walked up to a rather large man with long white hair tucked into a dark blue cap. "Do you know where I can find the City of Gold showing?” I asked him. He simply pointed over his shoulder, saying “Yeah, kid. It’s right in there.”
The movie I was going to see was about Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer-prize winning food critic for the Los Angeles Times. The university had invited Gold to screen his film, City of Gold, and speak about it. When the man I had just spoken to outside suddenly popped up on the big screen, I realized I had asked Jonathan Gold himself where the movie he stars in was being shown.
The movie told the story of a man who made his living eating food and writing about it. He started off writing about his passion for tacos for L.A. Weekly and Gourmet, slowly adding other treats as his career took off. His success landed him a job at the Los Angeles Times as a food critic and Gold won multiple awards for his reviews. The film followed him through his daily life, giving viewers insight into how he did what he did. I was instantly enamored with his life, his work, and his passion for all things related to food and Los Angeles.
The movie showed just about every type of restaurant Gold reviewed, from the taco trucks parked on the sides of L.A. streets to the restaurants tucked away in strip malls next to the highway. He told stories about the owners of the restaurants — side dishes to the food reviews. He was able to change the lives of those owners, as he did for Genet Agonafer who owns Meals by Genet. She had struggled mightily to make ends meet, but Jonathan Gold’s review, which can be found in his book Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles, helped Agonafer. His praises of her dishes made people flock to her restaurant, saving not only Meals by Genet, but Agonafer too.
Gold’s unbridled love for the street tacos of Los Angeles mirrored my own small foray into searching for great pizza. While my journey has not gone on for nearly as long as his did, Gold’s writing opened my eyes and helped me realize what I wanted to do with my life: write. Learning about this man’s adventure allowed me to finally realize this, after a tough road to get to that point.
I had struggled to find my direction when I first came to UC Santa Barbara, starting as a Chemistry major, switching to Economics, then adding the Accounting track before settling into Communication. I felt Communication was one of few majors that would allow me to finish on time. Then I took a Writing class analyzing movies, found myself watching this movie about the famous Jonathan Gold, and realized that writing is why I still attend UC Santa Barbara.
Had I not taken that Writing Program class, I may have dropped out. Had I not watched that movie and heard that legendary journalist talk about how he discovered the newest best restaurants before anyone, heard him speak about how every bite of food tasted—making me feel the ambiance of every locale —who knows where I would be now? But that movie, and more importantly Jonathan Gold, did what two years of switching majors couldn’t do. That evening is when it all clicked for me.
I walked out of that movie inspired, realizing why I had stayed in college. I wanted to write, and I wanted to be just like this man. Gold was the man who gave me purpose. He gave me a reason to stay.
Six months later, I am working at getting better at writing whenever I can. Tragically, Jonathan Gold passed away last July, before I had the chance to thank him for changing my life. I still live with a humble lesson from his life: Do what you love, and the money will follow.
For Gold it began with eating tacos. I think I’ll go for the pizza.
Justin Mallette is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication.