I’m not a crier. But I didn’t last more than 15 minutes into The One Hundred Foot Journey. The film is about the Kadam family, whose Mumbai restaurant is desecrated by political riots. They flee to England and find temporary residence in a new-build under the Heathrow flight path. But it’s a far cry from the food and love filled family courtyard back in India. They quickly conclude that, in England “the vegetables have no soul,” so pile into a van and set off to Europe in search of a better life. And better vegetables.
They roam the countryside until the van’s breaks dramatically fail, sending it veering off the road just outside a bucolic French village. Cue Charlotte le Bon, who plays Marguerite – a saucer-eyed French girl – who rescues the family and invites them into her home. She places a tray on the table in front of them in the most beautifully-acted scene showing the family dunking the bread into the olive oil, biting into the tomatoes and tasting the local cheeses with awe and wonderment. “Forgive the silence, Marguerite.” Says ‘Papa’ (Om Puri). “I think my family is afraid they died in the accident and now they have gone to heaven.”
The Kadams decide this is the place for them, and find an old farm house to turn into a restaurant. But due diligence isn’t ‘Papa’s’ strong point and he fails to notice that their new pitch is ‘one hundred feet’ from a Michelin-starred restaurant run by the formidable Madame Mallory – played by Helen Mirren, who brings her best tight-lipped, Queen-like sternness and disapproval to the role. And so ensues a battle between French stubbornness versus Indian insistence. “I will turn the music down, but I will turn the heat up.” Papa tells Mdme Mallory when she complains about the Bollywood tunes blasting from the stone farmhouse. “If your food is anything like your music, then I suggest you tone it down,” Mdme Mallory snaps later on.
The film is really a gastronomic love story – and even my brief plot outline probably hints towards a romantic outcome. But I think it was the passion surrounding the food and ingredients which really got me welled-up. “Food is memories,” says Hassan Kadam, the eldest son, played by the exceptionally handsome Manish Dayal. The film starts with him tasting a sea urchin at the market as a small boy. Later, he’s making a sea urchin soup with his mother just before the riots obliterate the family restaurant: “The sea urchins taste of life, don’t you think?” she asks he son, stirring the deep red, marbled soup. “Life has its own flavour. Hidden in that shell, raw, beautiful life.”
Needless to say, it’s not a film to watch on an empty stomach, so I was overjoyed to be invited to the first ‘Silver Screen Cuisine’ – a partnership between Everyman Cinema, Great British Chefs and Celebrity X Cruises, who are putting on a string of pop-up culinary events over the next few months to demonstrate their dedication to world-class cuisine.
The night was held at Islington’s Screen on the Green, which is known for its beautiful art deco exterior and purple armchair-like seats which are at least double the size of anything you’d get at an Odeon. On arrival, we were given a ‘Mumbai Masala’ (40ml Ketel One vodka, 20ml fresh lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup, 5 Fresh coriander leaves, 25ml lager – muddled, shaken, strained and garnished with curry leaves). I’ve never come across vodka paired with lager, but the clean hoppy notes of something like a Cobra is so synonymous with Indian cuisine. It was a clever way of acknowledging it, but elevating the lager to something a bit more sophisticated in a Ketel One cocktail.
Half way through the film a glass of wine was brought to each of our seats, and we were then treated to the French-Indian fusion of Pascal Aussignac and Alfred Prasad – two Michelin-starred chefs who had come to cook the interval meal. It was a tiffin box delivery, but then the contents were divided into seven individual dishes more like a thali – I’m pretty sure that the receptacle was actually an Indian spice box, with each container holding a two-to-three-bite-dish. The menu was so clever in the way it had taken inspiration from the film. There was a foie gras flan with sea urchin jus as an acknowledgement of Hassan’s sea urchin memories throughout the story. Some bowls contained traditionally Indian dishes: the chicken tikka, or the kadhai paneer with pulao rice, black lentils and herb butter. And other bowls contained traditionally French dishes: the white asparagus, or the herb-wrapped veal onglet.
The portion sizing was perfect, and the flavours were so intense, so interesting and so evocative having just seen them up on screen. “In this restaurant, cuisine is not an old, tired marriage. It is a passionate affair!” says Mdme Mallory in the film. That was certainly the case at Silver Screen Cuisine too.
For information on upcoming Silver Screen Events, sign up to GB Chef’s newsletter, or keep an eye on their site at: http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/partners/silver-screen-cuisine
[Tickets were £35, and included a cocktail on arrival, as well as a Michelin-starred interval meal, wine and live music, as well as the screening]
For more information on Celebrity Cruises’ taster season events, visit: https://www.celebritycruises.co.uk/learn/events