"That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist."
And so begins the rise of Hassan Haji, the unlikely gourmand who recounts his life's journey in Richard Morais' charming novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey. Lively and brimming with the colors, flavors, and scents of the kitchen, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a succulent treat about family, nationality, and the mysteries of good taste.
Born above his grandfather's modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. But when tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumière, a small village in the French Alps.
The boisterous Haji family takes Lumière by storm. They open an inexpensive Indian restaurant opposite an esteemed French relais (that of the famous chef Madame Mallory) and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family, does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is about how the hundred-foot distance between a new Indian kitchen and a traditional French one can represent the gulf between different cultures and desires. A testament to the inevitability of destiny, this is a fable for the ages; charming, endearing, and compulsively readable. (Summary and book cover courtesy of goodreads.com)
Let me start out this review saying: I love food. I love talking about food, I love reading food blogs, and I love trying new recipes (for better or for worse). As such, I had expectations that this would be a book I wouldn’t be able to put down from beginning to end.
I was generally disappointed. Nothing seemed to resonate. The characters seemed lackluster (even when in an emotive moment) and the pace of the book felt forced. Huge chunks of the story were missing. What happened between Hassan’s different jobs? The description of the food was fantastic and the restaurants intriguing, but those were the only redeeming characteristics.
Also, those redeeming moments occur only after enduring the first part of the novel, which has often crude and foul descriptions. I read the book while in India and the essence of the culture just never translated into the pages. I will be interested to see how this book translates into a movie, I can see how it would be more successful on the big screen.
Rating: 2 stars!
Who should read it? Food lovers. This is truly a love story between chefs and their art, but only if you are willing to plod a bit between descriptions.