*Spoiler Alert* If you don’t want to know the basic story of The Hundred-Foot Journey and how it ends, skip everything before the YouTube trailer.
My wife and I recently viewed The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie about an Indian family who emigrates to Europe, ends up in the south of France, and opens an Indian cuisine restaurant directly across the road from a traditional French restaurant that has earned a coveted Michelin star. Cultures clash when the Indian family introduces their cuisine, their views on food and eating, their music, dress, style, even their ways of doing business to the bemused citizens of the small town.
The owner of the Michelin-star French restaurant is offended on many levels by the Indian family and tries to drive them out of business and out of her life. But she can’t deny the brilliance of the son of the couple who started the Indian restaurant. He’s got enough talent and love and respect for food that he could take her restaurant to the next level–a second Michelin star.
But the son has ambitions of his own and goes to Paris to become the boy wonder of the Parisian restaurant scene. He achieves stunning success, but discovers it’s not what he wants, because his simple passion for good food prepared simply and well has been stifled by the demand of the dining cognoscenti to be visually and technologically impressed by his dishes, not by their flavor and quality.
So the son returns to his family to pursue his true passion with the people he loves and has come to respect–his family and the French restaurant owner and her sous chef–a beautiful, talented young woman for whom he has a love interest.
Why is this now the best food movie I’ve seen? Not that I’ve seen them all, but I’ve seen several of the best including Chocolat, Water for Chocolate, and Babette’s Feast (my previous number one).
The Hundred-Foot Journey excels on several levels, but most important is the celebration of food as the wondrous and varied things we ingest in order to live. As civilization developed, adventurous humans tried eating just about everything that could be chewed and swallowed, then figured out how to best prepare those foods for consumption, but then kept going to see just how sublimely the experience of eating could become by adding herbs, spices, other ingredients, combining textures, flavors, tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), then further combining several dishes in one meal to create a feast for the senses–visual, aromatic, and tactile as well as taste.
Several times during the movie I was brought to tears as the characters communicated the spiritual reverence for food as one of the highest expressions of art, especially considering the fact that food as art is not essential for survival. The simple preparation of the best ingredients, done perfectly, can turn an omelet into a masterpiece of art comparable to a great painting or symphony.
I was moved in a hopeful way by the young chef’s rejection of food purely as a celebration of excess as illustrated by the fantastical concoctions he was forced to prepare with the help of food science combined with technology, which tipped the scale of food as sustenance too far toward food as entertainment (as in: How can I prepare this dish in a way that will visually blow your mind but will be impossible for the everyday cook to recreate in terms of time, technology, and cost?)
I was moved by the old guard, as represented by the French restaurant owner, opening herself up to new possibilities of flavors and cuisines. She went from a French food elitist to someone who embraced Indian cuisine and allowed her new protegé to adapt centuries-old dishes to modern, adventurous tastes.
I was moved by the two different ways the restaurants celebrated food. The French emphasized on tradition, perfect preparation, and attention to detail. The Indian emphasized the humanity of food, the spiritual and familial aspect of dining as a celebration of life and surviving one more day thanks to the bounty of earth.
I was moved by the community and camaraderie found in the act of preparing food at home with friends or family or colleagues, rather than eating out of a can or eating a mass-produced, wax paper-wrapped sandwich or burger.
I was moved that both cultures celebrate chefs as artists, even geniuses, and revere those geniuses, albeit in different ways.
Why does this matter to a Neo Renaissance life? Mainly because food is a daily essential that is too easily taken for granted. A Neo Ren appreciates the time, effort, and cost that goes into even the simplest meal. He appreciates the juiciness of a tart-sweet apple right of the tree, a plump, ripe tomato bursting with flavor, the satisfying pop when biting into a fresh ear of corn drenched in butter, the majesty of a pork roast perfectly cooked and seasoned (to me, the pig is the noblest of all the protein providing creatures), the cold sweetness of a simple vanilla ice cream, the texture of a perfect slice of bread–crisp crust married with tender chewiness.
What’s your favorite food-related movie? Why? What’s your favorite food or dish? What about food moves you emotionally or spiritually?