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Friday, August 8, 2014

Hundred-foot journey for foodies and romanticists

Novel: The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais  
Film:  directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Just 100 feet across from each other in the small village of Lumie`re, France, two competing restaurants fight for control and public recognition.  Le Saule Pleureur, a haute cuisine French restaurant is owned by the haughty Madame Mallory. Maison Mumbai is a newly opened restaurant by the Kadam's, a boisterous Indian family from Mumbai (formerly Bombay).  These completely opposite cultures become the stage for hard feelings, conflict,   and a little comedy.

Madame Mallory has ruled her restaurant serving perfect, classic French food for years.  She has no competition and is both feared and respected by her staff and the townspeople.  Her life is totally set, or so she believes with only a second Michelin star for her restaurant
missing.  Gaining this star is her main mission in life.

The Kadam family owned a successful restaurant in Mumbai until it was burned to the ground in a political riot.  The mother/wife is killed and the bereft family decides to move on, first to London, then to Lumie're, a small town in rural France. They believe it is fate that they stay there after their car breaks down.  They find a dwelling big enough for the family and a restaurant, across the small road from Le Saule Pleureur.  They put up their Indian decor, play loud Indian music, scream directions to each other and open for business. Madame Mallory's peace, decorum and happiness are violated.  

Hassan Haji a 17 year old son of the Kadam family is Maison Mumbai's chief cook.  Eventually his talent is recognized by Madame Mallory: 
 "He has it," she hissed.  "He has it."
"What? He has What?  Who has what?"
"The boy," she croaked.  "The boy has what. . .Oh, the injustice of life."
The injustice, of course, is that he has the talent for cooking that she wishes she had.

She is determined to become his teacher and make him a chef.  She goes on a hunger strike until Papa Kadam agrees he can live at her restaurant and be tutored. The cultural conflict, the tutoring, a little romance are the basic plot elements of the book and the movie.  

Morais writes lovely descriptive passages about the food and the countryside, but I enjoyed the movie more than the book.  Except, of course, it was the book that made me first at the theater when the movie opened.  The film's Mumbai scenes of the food market crowded with people are colorful with beautiful foods, Indian wares, saris, and excitement.  The movie characters are more fully described and seem more like real people. Morais's portrait of Madame Mallory is somewhat stereotypical.  In the film she is a human being with faults, but also some kindness.  

Truth be told, I liked the happier ending of the film.  Yes, perhaps it was a bit sentimental, and the novel more realistic this time, but it was a more satisfying outcome for the characters I had come to care for.  Helen Mirren is perfect as Madame Mallory.  Manish Dayal's portrayal of Hassan is wonderfully innocent and earnest.  Papa Kadam, played by the Indian actor Om Puri, is the ideal Indian papa.  For sure, both the movie and the book will make you want to go out for Indian food.

                                                Some spices of Indian cuisine

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