Happy New Year everyone! I am curled up on the couch after having eaten my fill of chickpea salad sandwiches. Piper is napping after a long morning filled with fluffy pancakes for breakfast, playtime at the park and a romp through the garden. I’m somewhere between sleep and wakefulness; the house is all warmth and my toes are cushioned snugly inside the most comfortable new socks. Naturally, I’m thinking about books.
For my birthday last month, Will bought me The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. The novel is an adventure that begins in Bombay, but takes the reader through London and eventually to a small village in France. Hassan, the main character, suffers the devastating loss of his mother early on, and it is this loss that pushes his large family out into the world unknown. In London he comes of age, but it is not until Hassan and his family reach the town of Lumiere in the French Alps that he truly begins to discover his calling as a chef. His is a story both tragic and comic. The passages throughout the book about his mother are poetic in nature; her character is brought to life through Hassan’s ethereal recollections of her. On a lighter note, the conflict between Hassan’s father (also a cook) and his mentor-to-be Madame Mallory plays out in a series of hilarious, if not overly dramatic, events. Many of their “best” fights take place in the town market, where each chef tries to assert his claim over the freshest produce. Eventually, Hassan must make the hundred-foot journey over to the restaurant next door and begin to develop his culinary talent under the tutelage of Madame Mallory. Morais treats the reader to some delicious food writing, and also offers an imaginative glimpse into the competitive world of French cooking, set during a time when the cuisine was changing. As I’m sure is true in reality, the Michelin star becomes a source of underlying unhappiness in many of the character’s lives. Remember Pixar’s Ratatouille, where Chef Gusteau dies shortly after learning he has lost a star, which prompts the restaurant to lose yet another star? The end of the novel feels very much like this. Yet, Hassan does succeed, even if he is still haunted by memories of his mother, the scents of Bombay, and the taste of home cooked Indian food that reminds him so much of family.