Since we write about all things food here on Another Bite, it seemed remiss not to mention the newly released movie The Hundred Foot Journey. Let’s be honest, the chance to sneak away from work to see a movie mid-day, all in the guise of “research,” was nothing short of indulgent for someone whose theater-going has been seriously curtailed by parenthood. So it was with particular glee that I settled in for what L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan called, “A sweet and unapologetic fairy tale for adults.”
As long as that’s your expectation, you’ll enjoy it. But for those who expect films to rival their namesake books (this movie being based on the novel by Richard C. Morais), or to portray the world of French fine dining with hyper-realism, this one might prove a disappointment. Yes, I may have sighed audibly when the young chef makes a Hollandaise sauce with olive oil, instead of clarified butter. Having personally made batch after batch of the stuff during my time as a line cook at Maisonette, it seemed a glaring mistake. And feel free to laugh at the practically soft-core-porn, slow-motion clips of breaking eggs, whisking sauces, and tasting of raw mushrooms. It’s all decidedly melodramatic.
The plot revolves around an Indian family who fled Mumbai’s political persecution to settle in a small French town. The father (Om Puri)—despite his children’s protest—opens an Indian restaurant directly across the street from a Michelin one-star restaurant. The oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), having learned to cook from his late mother, is the chef. As you can imagine, a culinary and cultural battle ensues, with the owner of the French restaurant, one Madame Mallory (played with pluck by the indomitable Helen Mirren) recognizing Hassan’s talent. Hassan eventually crosses the street, not to mention the cultural divide (hence the title) to work in Mallory’s restaurant, helping her to earn another Michelin star in the process.
As I said, the story is sweet, if predictable. The French are repeatedly portrayed as snooty, the Indians as flashy and loud, feeding directly into tired cultural stereotypes. Hassan’s love interest, a young female sous chef (Marguerite Le Bon) from Mallory’s restaurant, predictably demurs early on until he goes off and becomes a culinary superstar in Paris, shedding his immigrant look and returning suave and sophisticated. The film’s real bright spot is the slow thaw to eventual tenderness that emerges between Puri and Mirren’s characters. Both are determined survivors, who having lost their spouses, have quietly persevered. The fondness that emerges between the two is engaging and nuanced. Despite coming from different worlds, their shared temperament leaves them well matched. In our culture of Pinterest-perfect weddings that often end in divorce, I revel in a love story where two individuals (both well beyond the first flush of youth) are perfectly happy living across the street from one another. Each is devoted to his or her restaurant, and yet they make time for a glass of wine at the end of each night in the garden. Now that’s my idea of a fairy tale.