The best food films ask the viewer to consider questions beyond fixed recipes and easy menus. Rather the films with lasting value probe deeper asking why community matters and to what use talents should be put.
DreamWorks Studio has recently released just such a film: The Hundred-Foot Journey. Based on worldwide best-selling book of the same name by Richard C. Morais, the film’s producers include the Hollywood power house team of no less than Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake.
Yet it is the value of the film itself that merits a trip to the theater. The film consists of circles of relationships that overlap between cultures and kitchens and finally the human heart.
The film begins in India where Hassan Kadam (played by Manish Dayal) learns from his mother in the family restaurant that adding spice to both food and life results in delight. But Hassan’s peaceful world is suddenly destroyed when angry members of an extremist political party smash the family’s restaurant and he sees his beloved mother die in the resulting fire.
Fleeing India’s political turmoil, the family relocates to Europe, hoping to find both peace and a new safer location for both their restaurant and their way of life. A broken car and an inspiration from above prompt the father, (played by Om Puri), to settle in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France.
There is only one problem: The location for Papa’s new Maison Mumbai restaurant is directly across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin rated restaurant. Madame Mallory, the owner, (played by Helen Mirren) is not amused to say the least. She is the embodiment of tradition, restraint, classic technique. From her point of view, here is just too much music and too many spices being used in that new 'foreign' restaurant across the lane.
Soon a feud of culinary tit-fo- tat breaks out between the two restaurants escalating in a second fire and hate graffiti on a wall. Though traditional, Madame Mallory is horrified at the violence and a tentative truce is declared between the 100 feet that separate the two restaurants (hence the name of both the book and the film).
With peace comes romance between Hassan and Madame’s sous chef, Marguerite (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and the awareness by Madame Mallory that Hassan has the potential to be a culinary great – if he adds professional culinary training. to the skills his mother taught him.
Again cultural limits are strained as Hassan’s father struggles, but finally, releases his son to the larger world of fame and fortune. Will the young chef succeed and what will be the cost? What will be the relationship between the two restaurants, between the two owners once Hassan reaches for his own Michelin stars?
The answers to these questions makes the film well seeing (and owning when available) but be assured lovers and cultures do eventually meet over the final truth of cuisine: What matters in the end is not critics’ stars or cultural superiority but rather understanding the nature of fellowship, both in kitchen and at the table.
This thoughtful film, which contains no car chases or X-rated sex scenes, offers a reminder that diversity is a gift, not a curse. Diversity provides an opportunity to learn, to change, to create a new - in short, an opportunity to widen our circle of understanding to include the whole world.
Your Culinary World Copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2014