Last weekend the wife and I decided to tackle a late, Sunday night movie. It was a little bold, being that we both had to work, but it was a spontaneous, last second decision and one, I might add, that was well worth the exhaustion we had to endure the following day. What did we see? A foodie-lover dream of a film, The Hundred Foot Journey, Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.
The story opens up in Mumbai, India, when a family restaurant run by ‘Papa’ (Om Puri) and his family, ends up being destroyed by a mob upset over an local election dispute. Papa and his family successfully evacuate the guests; however Papa’s wife is killed in the fire set at the restaurant. Seeking asylum in Europe, the family first settles in London; however their residence proves ill-suited to run a restaurant from (they are literally living just at the edge of the airport runway at Heathrow Airport), and eventually they depart for mainland Europe.
Shortly after crossing the border into France the brakes on Papa’s vehicle fail, which results in the family being forced to stay a night in a nearby French village. Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a local resident and sous chef at an upscale French restaurant in town, helps the family by volunteering the location of an auto repair shop and guest house in the town, as well as providing food for the travel-weary family. Papa is amazed at the quality of the food in the village and its availability, and learns of an abandoned restaurant building on the outskirts of town available for purchase. Seeing this as divine providence, Papa decides to open an Indian restaurant in the village.
Upon learning of Papa’s plan to open an Indian restaurant across the street, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the widowed owner of the upscale French restaurant, attempts to discourage the Indians from proceeding with their plans. After sabotaging Papa’s family by purchasing all the locally available ingredients needed to cook their dishes on opening night, a cold war erupts between Papa and Madame Mallory. The war peaks on Bastille Day, when one of Madame Mallory’s cooks and a pair of his friends vandalize the Indian restaurant by spray painting the outer wall and setting fire to the restaurant’s interior with firebombs. Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal), Papa’s eldest son and premier chef, catches the would be arsonists in the act and scares them off, but in an attempt to extinguish the small fires within the family restaurant his hands end up getting burned.
The following morning, Madame Mallory convenes a meeting of her chefs and asks them if they know the words to La Marseillaise. After citing lines from the song concerning equality and justice, she dismisses the cook from her restaurant responsible for the vandalism and then voluntarily cleans up the graffiti, herself in the midst of a torrential rain storm.
Hassan, having heard that Madame Mallory hires potential chefs by taste testing an omelet they prepare for her, asks if he may cook an omelet for her to try. Citing his injured hands, he says that Madame Mallory will have to help him with the process. After sampling his cooking, Madame Mallory concedes to his potential to be a great chef and invites him to cook for her against the wishes of Papa and his family. Ultimately, Hassan, Papa, and Madam Mallory reach an agreement to allow Hassan to cook in Madam Mallory’s restaurant. Hassan’s cooking proves popular and unconventional enough to result in Madam Mallory’s restaurant receiving its second Michelin Star, an elite honor bestowed on only a handful of restaurants in Europe. The award draws national attention to Hassan’s cooking, and he is offered a job in Paris, France, which he accepts. Meanwhile, Papa and Madam Mallory make amends and ultimately begin to take a romantic liking to each other.
In Paris Hassan’s cooking quickly receives critical acclaim, fueling speculation of a third Michelin Star for the Paris restaurant, he becomes an instant celebrity chef; however Hassan’s restaurant work is increasingly bogged down by thoughts of his family and Marguerite, with whom he had an ongoing romance. Ultimately, Hassan decides to return home, where he and Marguerite reunite. Proposing a business venture together, Hassan declare that he will help Madam Mallory’s restaurant earn its third Michelin Star. That evening, Hassan and Marguerite are allowed to cook dinner for Hassan’s family at Madam Mallory’s restaurant. As the two young chefs bring out the dishes for the meal, everyone looks forward to an evening of romance and fine dining.
Surprisingly Funny, Good Food, Great Cast
I knew virtually nothing of The Hundred Foot Journey, before deciding to view it, other than the main premise of the film was food. So I had no expectations when I walked into the near-empty theater (it was late night Sunday after all) and settled into my cushioned, leather seat.
Papa, played by Om Puri was sensational and very funny, in a grumpy, stubborn sort of way. He was the foundation of the family and the rock on-which the kids anchored themselves to when it came to the direction the family was to take. Most of what comedy was in the film originated with him and it was fantastic.
The food was….. more than delightful. I never get tired of seeing excellent camera work, that can capture the beauty and color of food. From seeing it neatly stacked in the town market, to following it through prep and cooking to watching chefs expertly arrange it on the plate for consumption, The Hundred Foot Journey captured all that more. We saw not just French cuisine but the deliciousness of Indian food as well, with all its color and spice (I’m getting hungry just thinking about it – I may have to grab lunch at my local Indian spot now…ugh!).
The cast was stellar, from Om Puri to Helen Miren to Manish Dayal as Hassan Haji and Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite. A wonderful story of two cultures coming to respect each other and their food traditions, mixed in with a cast that made it work. The Hundred Foot Journey is a enjoyable, heartfelt film fit for foodies the world over.
For those who have seen the film, I would love to hear your personal opinion!