The film opens with a mother and her boy running through a bright and colourful Indian market, overflowing with spices and fresh fruit and vegetables, and a throng of market shoppers. The boy and his mother are following a basket of fresh sea urchins, and when the basket carrier stops at his stall, a bidding war for the sea urchins begins.
But it’s the small boy, smelling the urchins with his eyes closed, that captures this stallholder, and he sells the basket to his mother. This is Hassan (Manish Dayal), as a boy.
Many years later, displaced from India, Hassan’s family travels to a small French village, Saint Antonin Noble Val. The family, led by Papa (Om Puri), set about opening an Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai. Hassan, now an adult, is the main cook.
Across the road (100 feet away) is the Michelin-starred French restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur, run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).
Mallory is not happy and a heated battle breaks out between her and Papa, at times resulting in Hassan not being able to buy fresh ingredients from the local market.
Hassan becomes close friends with Mallory’s sous-chef Marguerite and she helps him understand French cuisine.
Soon enough Mallory realises what a talent Hassan is and hires him to work in her restaurant and helps him along the way. He moves to Paris and becomes a hot-shot chef, but his heart isn’t quite in it.
I really enjoyed this film and I loved the themes running through it.
The sense of family and food is such a strong one. Earlier in the film, during a flashback, we see Hassan as younger man, cooking with his mother. She’s teaching him about flavor and cooking with feeling. Opposed to this we hear Marguerite explain to Hassan that in French cooking there are five sauces to perfect first. He does this easily it seems, and presents them to Marguerite at a picnic.
There’s such a juxtaposition between the Indian food and French food, with tiny servings in the French restaurant and big colourful servings in the Indian restaurant; the juxtaposition of small country town cooking and big city molecular gastronomy.
When in Paris and practicing molecular gastronomy, Hassan is writing to Marguerite asking how they cooked a certain dish together as he couldn’t reproduce it there. She replies that it’s where the food comes from. And I think that is important point to remember. Home grown food, from the backyard, or the paddock, always tastes better!
In this film, the Indian and French cultures are clear as well as the food.
So, something that has kept me thinking about this film though is a sense of food culture. I am Australian born. But what is Australian food? Another day and time to ponder that question, but in the meantime get along and enjoy this foodie film!
The Hundred-Foot Journey, opening in Adelaide on Thursday 14th August.
** Upon arriving guests were greeted with small plates of vegetable samosa and potato curry on naan bread, provided by Dhaba at the Spice Kitchen at Leabrook. What a great start to the screening!
**With thanks for Walt Disney Studios Australia for inviting me to the preview.
**Images ©2014 DREAMWORKS II DISTRIBUTION CO. LLC