There are two things that are truly universal in this world and that is love and food. (Well, maybe three because hate is probably also universal or at least anger but that’s depressing so we’ll go with two). The Hundred-Foot Journey is an incredible romance between a man and his passion for food. Hassan, played by Manish Dayal, is a boy whose love of food is instilled in him, as many first loves are, by his mother. The movie opens in a market in India as a young Hassan and his mother try to purchase prized sea urchins for the family restaurant. After the market, the movie jumps ahead to Hassan as a young man learning to cook the sea urchin himself. His mother teaches him how to utilize all his senses to fully experience food. These scenes between Hassan and his mother are almost universal in that most people were taught something in the kitchen by their mother. Being trusted in the kitchen as a child is a rare feat, or at least it was in my house. It was a little piece of adulthood that can be grabbed onto when you aren’t old enough to have other responsibilities. In my mother’s kitchen, as in most probably, my duties were mostly stirring things and licking spoons but I was helping, which is what really mattered. What Hassan is doing is learning, and that is the difference. His mother isn’t just a cook, she is a chef and she is passing her skills onto him.
After her loss Hassan’s father decides to take the family from India and move to Europe to open a restaurant. After a tumultuous journey, the family lands in a small town in France. The first person they meet in this town is Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) who finds the family after their car has broken down. She takes them back to her home and feeds them a beautiful platter of fresh food and French dishes that they have never experienced before. Hassan is, for the first time, introduces to flavors and combinations that he has never known. His eyes light up as he looks at the food and the true romance has begun. Now there is the opportunity for experimentation. Hassan begins to study French style cooking as his family sets up a restaurant just outside the village. Unfortunately, their restaurant is just across the street from a restaurant owned by Madame Mallory. The restaurant serves only classic French dishes and has already received one Michelin Star, which is described in the movie as a designation handed down by the gods of food. Madame Mallory’s sense of preservation for the sanctity of her restaurant clashes with the brash establishment that is going in across the street. This creates conflict between the two restaurateurs which eventually results in Madame Mallory tasting Hassan’s food. While she is reluctant to admit that he is good, she must eventually give in and begins to cultivate his skills in her own kitchen. Now the romance really begins to heat up. Hassan, while learning these new techniques and flavors, does not abandon the flavors his mother taught him to know and love. Instead, he incorporates these flavors together to make something that is new and wonderful. The movie doesn’t stop here but this is where my recap will stop, because you should go see for yourself what happens.
The Hundred-Foot Journey left me smiling from ear to ear, like a weirdo, in my movie chair (well in the moments that I wasn’t a little teary-eyed). The cast is filled with relative newcomers with the exception of Helen Mirren who was as brilliant as she always is. Her character’s journey from prejudice to acceptance left a warm feeling of someone changed for the better. Manish Dayal takes on the role of Hassan without ever looking outmatched by Mirren, which is a feat for any new actor. This movie should open the door to other opportunities for him. The scene stealer of the movie that I have yet to talk about is Papa, played by Om Puri. Papa is Hassan’s father and head of the family. His stubborness and warmth for his family combine in a way that left me smiling or laughing in almost all of his scenes. Madame Mallory describes the food at her restaurant as, “a passionate affair” which is a sentiment that any foodie will understand. This movie inspired me to buy both an Indian and French cookbook as most of the techniques and spices talked about in the movie are things I have never tried before. What really holds this story together is the love of family but the food lover in all of us can escape into this movie and I certainly did.
I was given the opportunity to see The Hundred-Foot Journey at an advanced screening, because I have a very nice friend who let me use her ticket. You can check out her review of the movie and her interviews with the cast at www.itsfreeatlast.com