Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Hundred-Foot Journey

(India, United Arab Emirates, USA), 2014)

An Indian family is burned out of their thriving restaurant in Mumbai and relocate to Europe with the idea of opening a new restaurant. They settle in France, of all places. The patriarch is Om Puri, who is a huge star in India. (He has one of the most outstanding noses I’ve ever seen. To call it a potato would be an insult to potatoes. It is, to quote Cyrano, a rock, a peak, a cape. It is a peninsular!) And where in France do they set up shop? Why, just across the road, a hundred feet away, from a very snooty one-Michelin-star French restaurant. (To me, unfamiliar with their rating system, one star didn’t sound all that impressive. Then I learned that in all of France there are only 485 one-stars. Three stars? Only 26.) As if it couldn’t be worse, the place belongs to rigid, angry, and a little bit racist Helen Mirren, and she’s been there for years. She can’t stand the idea of competition, particularly from these loud, vital, garish, exuberant people with their alien spices and ear-shattering music. She learns of their opening day menu, which includes pigeon, so she buys up all the pigeons in the local market, as well as many other ingredients they will need. This and other pranks soon expand into open warfare involving legal challenges and other dirty tricks, until it threatens to get out of hand. But the eldest son, Hassan, appears to be a culinary genius, so good that even Helen has to (eventually) acknowledge his genius. If the two competitors can make peace, maybe Hassan with his fusion blend of Indian and French cuisine can earn Helen that coveted second star …

It’s all great feel-good fun, and one more entry in that small film genre I call food pornography. Every dish they make is so lovely I just want to stick a fork into the screen and pull out a sample. Even when he graduates to a three-star restaurant in Paris where the motto is “Innovate! Innovate! Innovate!” and the portions are so small and so artfully arranged that you have to laugh at them, I’d still like to have a taste. After all, I once dined at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where I had the famous flower salad ( and found it delicious. Weird food doesn’t intimidate me.