One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!
The Hundred-Foot journey by Richard C. Morais is a journey much longer than the title suggests. The pace at first is brisk. We meet Hassan and are thrown into his Bombay childhood, including the terrible death of his mother at the hands of a Hindu mob, all concluded in 30 pages. We read of his coming-of-age in London in another 20. His father then takes the family off on a tour of Europe by motorcade, stopping only when they have a serendipitous break down in rural France in front of a mansion for sale, which Papa immediately decides to convert into a boisterous, Bollywood-esque eatery, with Hassan as its chef.
One hundred feet across the road stands a country inn, an archetype of French rustic elegance and fine eating. The proprietor Madame Mallory is disgusted with the exuberance and ‘foreign-ness’ of the newcomers. She is an elderly woman embittered by her failure to earn a third Michelin star, and on top of that discovers that Hassan is a culinary genius. She can’t take it at first, but eventually she becomes his mentor, much to Papa’s grief. Hassan meets Marguerite in the kitchen and the two start a relationship. However it is not long before Hassan moves up the ranks, and his talent takes him to Paris.
The latter part of the novel sags a little, years pass, bereft of the colorful Papa and Mallory. Hassan starts his own restaurant. In a thinly sketched Paris, Hassan charts his ascent to the top ranks of chefs as if ticking off points on a résumé. We’re given (in my opinion) too much information on French labor law. But the tides turn again, and the mood turns earnest. Morais tugs at the heartstrings a little, and gives both Hassan and the reader a sense of satisfaction.
The book is well researched, subtle in its details and delights the senses. A pan seethes with “prattling onions and furiously spitting lemon grass”; and an artichoke appears as a “spiky hand grenade.” Cue all foodies weeping with joyful tears. For all the differences and little annoyances I had with the book such as little digs at Christian faith and the ‘laggy’ middle overall I really liked it. It was a journey- it felt like it took us the length of the book for Hassan to make his hundred foot journey ‘across the street’ from the Indian cooking of his childhood to Parisian culinary, when he had actually, (literally) made the move years before. The books shows the growth of Hassan’s character, and is a treasure trove for foodies.
Click here to see my goals for 2015