Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Lassie Hallstrom
Starring: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon
(PG, 122 min.)
“Brakes break for a reason.” Mrs. Kadam
“It’s sharp and cool in the mouth, all at once. Do you know how long it takes chefs to learn that?” Helen Mirren’s Madame Mallory says that about an omelet, but the same can be said of this delightful film.
(And about the learning curve of Hollywood itself. It originally launched in 2014, just when summer fare had dried up the local theaters until they were as barren and empty as the parched earth and streambeds here in Texas. Then a little miracle happened.)
The miracle is a film about food and family, passion and perfection, cultural clash and cultural fusion. And yes, maybe, a little bit about destiny, too.
The Hundred-Foot Journey opens with a cleverly executed backstory, as Hassan Kadam, an immigrant from India, tells his story to the customs clerk in France. Yes, he has skills to earn a living; he is “a cook, not a chef,” he clarifies, and he has been trained by his mother.
The flashback to a colorful scene at a crowed Indian market in Mumbai shows a young Hassan winning the right to purchase the fresh sea urchin over all the others clamoring around the vendor. Hasan puts his finger in the creature’s belly and tastes it raw, showing his curious and sophisticated palate.
We flash quickly, maybe a little too quickly, past the fire that destroys the family restaurant, and tragically, Hassan’s mother as well. A quick glimpse of their original asylum in London, their hopes for reopening a restaurant dampened by the constant rain and nearby Heathrow with its noisy jets close overhead. But actually, it is because "the vegetables in England have no soul, no life," that Papa (India’s treasured Om Puri) decides to move on.
Traveling across the mountains between Switzerland and France in a dilapidated caravan like an Indian version of Steinbeck’s Joad family, their brakes fail, leading not to another tragedy, but to the very village where Papa decides to open up the new restaurant, which he calls “Maison Mumbai,” perhaps unconsciously anticipating the cultural and cuisine fusion that will occur.
Not matter that the place is in ruins, that it is a mere 100 feet from the acclaimed Le Sauile Plleurer, a fabulous French Restaurant that has earned the coveted Michelin star, or that the rival owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) lives up to every stereotype of the supercilious French with a little French Foreign Legion marketing tactics thrown in for good measure.
Her lovely sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is a delicious blend of Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, and Jean Arthur – soulful eyes that alternately send sparks or melt, as unpredictable as the weather.
Of course we know where all this is going, just as Shakespeare’s audiences were familiar with his borrowed storylines. At least he didn’t have to contend with critics who confused classic themes with predictability, as I’m afraid our current cinematic gadflies do.
The Hundred-Foot Journey’s fine score by Oscar winning composer A R Rahman soars yet does not quite “wash over you like welcome rains.” Nor does it end in a grand finale as Rahman’s earlier Slumdog Millionaire did with a final dance scene, like an ode to joy. Instead, it has a subtle French infusion that seeks your soul instead of your feet.
Like the 2012 British Import, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel , one of the best things to wash upon our shores since Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House, it has also been damned with faint praise by the elites, who I think are not unlike the snooty Madame Mallaory – that is, until she tastes Hassan’s omelet.
I’d tell them to get their eggs cracking and learn to recognize a delicious dish when it comes their way.
Hassan, already an expert at Indian cooking, tries experimenting with the new classic French cuisine he is learning. Selecting a few ingredients from the battered tin spice chest the family has saved from the Mumbai fire, Hassan makes some subtle changes in the classic French Beef Stew, if I may be so bold as to call this exquisite dish, Boef Bourguignon, by its plain Jane name.
Madame Mallory is not pleased:
Hassan: "I added some spices."
Madame Mallory: "Why change a recipe that is 200 years old?"
Hassan: "Maybe 200 years is long enough."
Take a few hours, if you like, to see if you think the fresh ginger root and ground cumin enhance this classic dish.
Our recipe comes to us courtesy of Chef Floyd Cardoz
Or Shall I say Kripyā bhojan kā ānnaṅd lijīyai.
Boef Bourguignon a la Hassan Recipe
Cook in a 7 ¼ qt. Round French Oven
2 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, fat removed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
18 small pearl onions, peeled
18 baby carrots, peeled and cut in half
18 baby turnips, peeled and cut in half
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut in half
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves in an herb infuser or herb bag
2 bay leaves
2 onions, diced
1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh root ginger, minced
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground brown mustard seed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (750-ml) bottle red Burgundy wine
1 quart white beef stock
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup chervil, picked
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Season the beef with salt and pepper, then lightly coat with the flour. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes. Reserve extra flour.
Place the French oven over medium heat. Add the canola oil and bacon, and cook until the fat is rendered. Remove bacon. Add the short ribs to the pot and sear until lightly colored, taking care not to burn them. Remove the beef.
Add the pearl onions and cook 2 – 3 minutes. Remove. Repeat this process with the carrots and turnips. Add the chanterelles and saute for 1 minute. Remove and reserve.
Add the butter to the leftover oil. Add the cloves and bay leaf, and cook 1 minute. Add minced onion, garlic and ginger. Cook 4 – 5 minutes until transparent.
Add the ground spices and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the leftover flour and tomato paste. Cook 2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with the wine. Bring to a boil. Pour in the beef stock and return to boiling.
Return the bacon and short ribs to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Add thyme and season with both peppers.
Place the pot in the oven and cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Return the onions, carrots and turnips to the pot. Cook another 30 minutes in the oven.
Remove from the oven and add brown sugar. Remove the cloves, thyme and bay leaves. Return the mushrooms to the pot and re-season with salt.
Garnish with parsley and chervil before serving.