Spicing Up French Cuisine

The Hundred Foot Journey is a feel-good movie. It has gratuitous shots of delicious food, gratuitous shots of the South of France, and gratuitous shots of beautiful people making Deep And Meaningful Connections.

The beautiful Manish Dayal making a DAMC with the beautiful Charlotte Le Bon, x

(Maybe they aren’t so gratuitous after all?)

I know there are plenty of light-hearted, feel-goodTM, films out there involving food, music and the South of France, but surely one more couldn’t hurt right? Especially when the whole concept can be revitalized by adding a little spice into the mix? And by spice, I mean India. Just so we’re clear.

Sarcasm aside, it really is an entertaining movie, and I enjoyed the mix – Southern French and Indian (Mumbai style, to be specific) cooking mix very well together – visually, at least. I’m no culinary expert so I don’t know how the combinations might actually taste.

The movie centers around Hassan Kadam (though that might be hard to deduce from the movie poster) – a young man whose love of food, and deep, instinctive, and sensory cooking style was instilled in him by his mother (played by Bollywood darling, Juhi Chawla).

 Following a tragedy that takes the life of his beloved mother, Hassan leaves India with the rest of his family, travelling to England, and ultimately France, where they attempt to make a new life for themselves. Under the bull-headed optimism of their father, they open up an Indian restaurant, opposite the village’s local reputed restaurant, giving both some healthy dose of competition.

Helen Mirren, the head chef, and their arch enemy, finds she has much to contend with, in the form of Hassan’s cooking.

Hassan is one who utterly absorbs his surroundings and the ingredients he works with, fusing them to create the perfect harmony. There were so many metaphors in there for finding that perfect balance in life while encountering the new and the foreign – the most obvious one being the family’s Indian cultural background and new French surroundings. It’s a connection which Hassan is able to best navigate at first, using it to help him to see the world differently, imagine possibilities of which others can’t even conceive. 
His life is one of creativity and his joy is in the process of the creating; and as with the journey that he makes from protégé to a reputed chef, the vitality and exuberance of his life lies in the journey of each day, the journey of each recipe that he meticulously works at.

The blending of cultures and his knowledge is not a destination but a process without end. Or, to put it in a cliché, the journey is the destination.

The movie has shades of magical realism. There were suggestions of the mother’s continued presence in the family through father’s remarks about what she wants and doesn’t for them – she is obviously present in Hassan’s cooking, but there are also magical overtones with his use of the “special” spices from India. They seemed to be special for reasons more than that of having belonged to his mother previously, though their “speicalness” is never really specified, other than being there to emphasize how “exotic” they are. Spices are great, but the only magical powers they possess is that of cranking up the flavor in a dish. And despite Hassan having a small trunk of several different spices, they managed to mention cardamom about fifty million times.

 Though it’s a frothy film it sits on strong acting – each cast member delivers their absolute best – it’s been awhile since I saw the film but the characters are still very present in my head.Despite expected incongruity, the dream-like, filtered Southern France, and the pulsing, almost tangible Indian music went very well together. Curse you, A.R.Rahman – I have you to thank for not being able to get this melody out of my head since I saw the film.

Fair warning, though: make sure you watch this film on a full stomach. Even without missing any meals mine was grumbling by the time the credits rolled around.


4 thoughts on “Spicing Up French Cuisine

  1. Yes, the India angle added spice, so to speak, to the south of France story, which freshened it up. I liked your comments about magical realism–cooking movies tend to veer in that direction (I'm thinking Like Water for Chocolate, and Chocolat, specifically)–I hadn't thought about that aspect of the movie until you mentioned it. And the combo of French countryside and Indian music was enchanting. Great review!


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