Monday, 18 August 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey and a few favourites

The last time she called my friend M insisted I watch filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom’s latest release, The Hundred Foot Journey. “It is all about food, I hear,” she said, “You must go catch a show.” The film is a feast for the eyes, she said.  Yes I could trust Lasse Hallstrom to trump up dribble- inducing, hunger-pangs-provoking, lip-smacking visual feasts that’ll make you shift in your seat and ache for a bite of the gorgeous food on screen. 

Remember Chocolat, the 2000 film about a young woman who winds up at a conservative French village and opens her chocolaterie during Lent provoking consternation of the townsfolk and the wrath of Count Paul de Reynaud. Yes the one starring Julliette Binoche and Johnny Depp? It is one of my favourite films, especially for the visual indulgence it offers. I have drooled over the thought of steaming mug of luscious, hot chocolate infused with exotic chili pepper or the chocolate seashells, I can almost imagine their gooey goodness lace the insides of my mouth, and the velvety sheen of the chocolate ganache, and the swirls of white and dark chocolate.  All that chocolate and on top of it Johnny Depp, the film actually calls for a drool deluge.

So this weekend I took M’s suggestion, booked two tickets for an afternoon show at INOX, tricked a friend into joining me and finally watched the film.

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is a ridiculously charming French village and the supercilious and exceptionally successful restaurateur Madame Mallory is one of its most distinguished inhabitants. Her chic restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, a sensation in the world classical French gastronomy, boasts a dazzling list of patrons that includes the French President. But Madame Mallory’s life and the fate of her restaurant face a startling crisis when the raucous Kadams, a family of Indian émigrés who left their homeland after a tragic event, seeking their fortune in Europe, move into the house, across the street, exactly 100 feet away. And to add to her woes the family’s irrepressible and willful patriarch, Papa, is hell-bent on opening and running a traditional Indian restaurant, right there.

The film starring Helen Mirren and our very own Om Puri, narrates a heartwarming, and appetizing, tale featuring a motley bunch of characters that touch your heart. And a generous drizzle of humor, a dash of emotions, a smattering of mushy romance, together crank up the film’s feel-good quotient. But above all it is a particularly good-looking film. With the stunning, beatific beauty of rural France as a backdrop and an abundance of saliva-jerking gastro-porn, the film is indeed a feast for the eyes.

The opening sequence of the film transports you to a classic Indian fish market, and amidst the deafening din, the haggling and yelling, a young boy cracks open a sea urchin, scoops out its rue with his fingers and puts it into his mouth, licking up the last vestiges, and savours it with such ecstatic pleasure that’ll make you grab one of those balls of needle like spikes yourself. However, I do not particularly fancy sea hedgehogs!
But few minutes later the sight Hassan Kadam, the protagonist, is busy grilling yoghurt and spice-laced chunks of meat and chicken legs and lobsters on a charcoal grill, under a tarpaulin tent, amidst torrential rains, had me squirming in my seat, my buttered popcorn suddenly bland.

And then there were the five delicious mother sauces of French cooking, béchamel, Hollandaise, Espagnole, Tomate and Veloute in small glasses served with a tempting assortment of classic French cold cuts, I couldn’t get my mind off. Even the heirloom spice box encasing jars of spices like Elaichi, Kalonji and Madras Masala, a bequest of Hassan Kadam, passed on to him by his late mother, evokes a yearning for a spicy Murgh Masalam, in this case paired with a classic French wine, I would go for a Chenin Blanc, I think.

And who could sit still with the most luscious looking Boeuf Bourguignon a la Hassan, stuffed pigeon in truffle sauce in sight but not a morsel to sample. And of course there were the delectable canapés Madame Mallory serve on Bastille Day and mind boggling spectacle of molecular gastronomy. And of course the fluffy omelet that decided the course of the protagonist’s life. Culinary consultant and Floyd Cardoz is the man behind the delectable dishes that make the film so appetizing and their stunning presentation. He has orchestrated a brilliant fusion of classic French cooking and the nuances of Indian culinary traditions with the infusion of Indian spices like cardamom and cumin. In fact, Le Cordon Bleu has come up with special recipes inspired by the dishes as portrayed in the film.

The storyline is pretty simple and straightforward. It doesn’t stun you with a sudden twist in the plot, or overwhelm you with emotions. It has a few slothful sequences and to me the film falls short of potryinf the seductive chemistry between the protagonists and food which it sets out too achieve. But it has a quaint appeal that’ll warm your heart. I have read reviews that declare the film predictable. I would say it is only partly predictable, and definitely not stale. Yes the film does begin on a note of obsessive rivalry between the conceited Madame Mallory (Hellen Mirren) flabbergasted by the rambunctious ways of her alien neighbours and intimidated by the extraordinary culinary ingenuity of the young Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), and the headstrong Mr. Kadam, Hassan’s father, who undeterred by Madame Mallory’s Michelin starred glory and is determined to give the French a taste of his son’s exceptional culinary skills. You might begin to wonder if it would end in the dramatic triumph of the culinary underdogs, the Indian family in this case, over the high and mighty, in this case a disdainful French restaurateur.

But the film turns out to be more about embracing differences, cultural or gastronomical, rather than resisting them. And it turns our Madame Mallory has a heart after all and can’t stand firm against Hassan’s honest and indomitable passion for cooking.  The Hundred Foot journey is not only one between the two rival restaurants; it’s a journey that seeks to bridge the gap between two absolutely different cultures.
Hellen Mirren, as is expected of her, delivers a superlative performance in the role of Madame Mallory, while the equally talented Om Puri matches steps with the flair of a seasoned actor, in the shoes of the somewhat-crude but endearing Papa. Manish Dayal successfully conveys Hassan Kadam’s sacred love for cooking, while Charlotte Le Bon, in the role of Hassan’s romantic interest and a sous chef in Madam Mallory’s restaurant, is commendable. (I wish I could cycle around the French countryside in pretty floral dresses, or go mushroom picking in the picturesque woods in rural France)

I am not saying these are the best food-centric films there are, but here’s my list of films I keep returning to especially for the delightful food, even if in a scene or two, they feature. I have a long list of gastro-films to watch though.Here I am sticking to Hollywood productions, will soon tell you about my list of Bollywood flicks that have some great gastro-mush if not porn! 

Chocolat: I have already told you why. And I’ll just add that I have always fantasized being Counf Renaurd in the scene where he succumbs to temptation and devours all the chocolate her can ad falls asleep in chocolate, literally, perhaps dreaming chocolaty dreams. And so I ask you what indeed could be more harmless, more innocent than a piece of chocolate?

Julie & Julia: The film intertwines the tale of the life of culinary legend Julia child and food blogger Julie Powell's journey through the challenge of cooking every dish in Julia’s first recipe book.. And the mere mention of Raspberry Bavarian Cream and chocolate soufflé is enough to make me return to a film again and again. In this case there was a lot of cooking going on to.  I do not have to tell you that the film evoked the first thoughts of turning to food blogging in whatshername.

Ratatouille: In the film a young cook is helped by a rat with exceptional culinary skills. I am not sure if I would like to have a rat, a culinary genius or not, in my own kitchen, but the idea seemed extremely endearing in a film. And I have been craving Ratatouille ever since I saw the film for the first time. Love the pun in the name of the film too

Charlie and the chocolate factory: The film sees five kids win the one of a kind opportunity to tour the world’s most awesome chocolate factory with its eccentric owner as the guide. What makes this film delectable? One, Johnny Depp again, he is equally delicious even as an eccentric candy maker. And of course the strawberry flavoured chocolate-coated fudge and raspberry kites with licorice instead of strings have featured in my dreams numerous times.

Waitress: Who could resist a film which has the protagonist, a young waitress who is a pie baking genius and invents a pie for every emotion or event of her life, trumping up a marshmallow mermaid pie or a quiche of egg and Brie cheese with a smoked ham center; it’s another story that it is called Bad Baby pie. And then there are dialogues like “You take bittersweet chocolate and don't sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel.” For me Jenna’s rancid marriage to Psycho Earl and the salacious details of her affair with her doctor, all take a backseat when Jenna brings out the pie dish.

The Big Night : The film revolves around two brothers who own a traditional Italian restaurant. But their business is in a slump and they cannot mess up their only chance to save their restaurant. I will simply leave you with a few of the dishes they serve on their Big Night, which will decide their fate and the fate of their restaurant.  Pancetta and Rosemary Risotto Balls, Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini, Melon and Virginia Ham, Timpano, Plum Clafouti and Chocolate glazed Chocolate Tart! By the way Timpano is nothing but a mouthwatering jumble of pasta, boiled eggs, cheese and meat encrusted in a giant pasta bowl, baked in a mold. 

Under the Tuscan Sun: A young writer goes on a vacation to Italy and ends up buying a villa in Tuscany. Her new home is where she wants to begin her new life. It’s a charming film with the fairy tale Tuscan countryside as a backdrop and I especially love the scene where the protagonist cooks the most amazing Italian delicacies for the group of men helping her restore the villa. 

All image courtesy Google Images 

No comments:

Post a Comment