We wonder how many stars Michelin judges would give to their mums’ cooking. In The Hundred-Foot Journey, the much talked about new Hollywood film based around food, which will release internationally this month, Helen Mirren’s Michelin-starred restaurant serves food that teases the palate, introduces new flavours, and is beautiful to look at, while Om Puri’s restaurant, a hundred feet away, reminds us of masala danis, boiling gravies and soft hands getting burnt while turning rotis. The film goes deeper than two clashing cuisines; it decides the battle between the head and the heart.
Adapted from a book by Richard Morais, co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and directed by Chocolat’s Lasse Hallström, it’s difficult to believe that, apart from some of the actors, The Hundred-Foot Journey has little Indian input. Thankfully, the Indian cooking was headed by the New York-based, Mumbai-born chef Floyd Cardoz, famous for his stints at restaurants such as the Tabla and North End Grill, and also for winning the third season of American Top Chef, in 2012. While the French may never forgive him for adding cumin and Aleppo pepper to their beef bourguignon, he did make sure that the Indian dishes looked authentic. “Richard Morais used to eat at my restaurant Tabla,” Cardoz told an interviewer on the food website tastingtable.com. “He gave me the book before it was released, and it had many similarities to my life. I felt like no one had ever recognised an Indian chef before, so I was excited to work on it.”
“It allows the viewer to see that we’re more alike than we’re different,” Winfrey had said on adapting the book. Puri told us, “The film tells us a lot about both the cultures, through food, and how human relationships change. Our food is usually overcooked compared to French cuisine. Also, the oil and spice can be a deterrent for westerners. But, the crew was fascinated by Indian food. [On set], I would cook and feed the crew by turn. We were a 40-member unit, and I have played chef to almost all of them.”
In the movie, as Puri’s big family adapts to the French countryside, his son, played by Manish Dayal, dreams of working with Paris’s food gods. The movie’s climax, and the sole scene in which Dayal gets to shine, has him eat from a fellow Indian’s tiffin after months of cooking in a kitchen that could pass off as a laboratory. Only someone who hasn’t eaten Indian food in a while will know how that can bring about quiet, hot tears.
MOVIES THAT MAKE YOU LONG FOR THE INTERVAL