I may not earn Michelin stars for my cooking, but I certainly do well enough to bring smiles on the faces of loved ones. Indeed, aromas from steaming pots often prompt childhood memories. If you place three bowls of chicken and seafood gumbo on the table, I could quickly determine my mom’s bowl in one bite. How? Mama taught me to put love into everything I cook so each meal is memorable. As a cook, I understand the sacrifice involved in preparing meals. What I adore most about culinary arts is how food magically brings people of diverse cultures together. Thanks to The Hundred-Foot Journey, we have an excellent peek into the workings of a Michelin-star restaurant. During the press junket, I had an opportunity to speak to the cast, producers and director.
Producer Juliet Blake jumped back into the pages of her childhood after reading an advanced galley of Robert Morais’ novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, in 2009. The former executive at the Jim Henson Company and the National Geographic Channel took her own quest in search of bringing the book to film. “I just fell in love with the story,” she says. As a German Jew growing up in England, Juliet quickly adopted a few English customs. “It was traditional to have an Indian meal on Sunday nights. And, a lot of English people go to their local curry house; or, to an Indian restaurant to have Indian food. So for me, the whole notion of food as being something that equates to community is really important.” Juliet set a meeting with Robert to secure rights to the book prior to meeting with Oprah Winfrey at Harpo Films. Before long Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks also joined Juliet as one of the producers.
Academy Award winning® actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) was also a fan of Indian food prior to signing on for this film. “Being a British person, Indian food is so much a part of our world. The one food that I absolutely crave if I’ve been away from England is not Roast Beef and rice pudding. It’s Indian food!” What’s Dame Helen’s greatest food memory? “Chocolate is incredibly memorable for me because I didn’t eat chocolate at all until very late. I grew up in England after the Second World War. We didn’t have chocolate until after I was about seven. My first taste of chocolate was pretty amazing,” Dame Helen says. What did Dame Helen learn most during this film? She says, “It was amazing to see the extent to which chefs and restaurants owners are obsessed with food. And, also in this wonderful generous way, they’re not obsessed with it themselves. They’re obsessed with giving someone an incredible experience,” she sighs.
Actor Manish Dayal (90210, Switched at Birth) says his perspective changed after playing the ingenious chef Hassan Kadam, who struggles to help his family’s Indian restaurant. “In France, it’s respected in a way that I don’t know we do in the U.S. A good chef is like a celebrity. It’s a big deal. But that’s a different culture in France.” How did Manish react after discovering he would co-star opposite Dame Helen Mirren? He says, “I thought, ‘This is going to be amazing working with her! I’m going to be learning a lot,’ ” he says. “And, I did learn a lot. She’s hilarious. She made the work experience so much better. I expected to learn from a great – and I did!” Manish’s character (Hassan) also created new memories by making Dame Helen’s character (Madame Mallory) an omelet to gain her approval. Manish used his father’s homemade recipe of chili powder, buttermilk, cilantro and black pepper.
French-Canadian actress Charlotte La Bon (Mood Indigo and Yves Saint Laurent) concurs about working with Dame Helen. “She’s such a powerful woman! I want to be like her when I grow up because she’s so beautiful. It’s beauty not about age or whatever. It’s about confidence. It’s not cliché or cheesy. Everybody can be beautiful, and she’s just everything,” she says. And, what’s Charlotte’s favorite food memory? “All the dishes that my grandmother used to do that would leave smells: the most powerful memories come from the smells,” the vegetarian says.
For Academy Award® nominated director Lasse Holström deciding to do a movie that combines culture and food was a no-brainer. “It’s a given, isn’t it? That the mix of cultures and the mix of recipe ideas, and trying to merge cultures and make them unite, without losing the culture or individual culture quality, I think it’s important,” Lasse insists. “It felt like it’s a great message that we should all hold hands, and know that we have so much in common: even if we have cultural differences. There’s so much more we have in common than we realize. And knowing that going in, it was a life-affirming message that the script had that I certainly could sign on to,” he says.
I wholeheartedly recommend The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is presented by DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment with a screenplay by Academy Award nominee® Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), based on the novel The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, and produced by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, Academy Award® nominee Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Black.
Opens Nationwide Aug. 8, 2014