Reviewed by Sara Hodon
The Hundred-Foot Journey
by Richard C Morais
Hardcover: 256 pages, July 6, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-1439165645
The Hundred-Foot Journey is unlike any book I’ve ever read, and I have to admit I was more than a little skeptical before I started reading it. In this case, the old saying about not judging books by their covers held true. The book was described as description “Kitchen Confidential meets Chocolat”, so that sold me on giving it a chance, but I really had no idea what to expect. I’ve been trying to broaden my reading choices, though, so I gave it a go. Luckily, my open-mindedness paid off.
The Hundred-Foot Journey by former Forbes editor Richard C. Morais is the story of restaurant wunderkind Hassan Haji, who moves with his family from their native Mumbai to London for a brief time before finally settling in rural France. Hassan’s father, a proud, belligerent man, opens an Indian restaurant across the street from an established, revered French establishment and begins a neighborhood turf war with their neighbor, the esteemed chef Gertrude Mallory, in the process. The real story begins (at least as far as Hassan is concerned) when Chef Mallory recognizes Hassan’s gift of creating unique dishes and takes the young boy under her wing and schools him in the intricacies of French cuisine. His early education has a far-reaching influence on the rest of his career.
At its heart the novel is a coming-of-age story about the ups and downs of what happens when true passion meets true talent. The title comes from the distance between the Hajis’ restaurant and Chef Mallory’s—not far in geography, but worlds away from each other in terms of culture, style, and cuisine. Morais obviously knows a thing or two about food, or did some incredible research, as he goes into great detail about the many French and Indian dishes Hassan prepares, down to the very last ingredient. The interesting and flavorful dishes take center stage throughout the book, all but bringing the reader right into the kitchen with Hassan.
Personally, I felt that the book had the overall flavor of a fable or fairy tale that added an interesting dimension to my experience as the reader. (It’s possible that the unique hand-drawn cover art may have had something to do with it.) Morais keeps the plot both basic—a young man’s journey to become a top French chef—and elegant, as the book’s three main locations (Mumbai, London, and Paris) add a touch of the exotic. Hassan tells us about himself more through his experiences in the kitchen than anywhere else. He lives, he loves, he mourns the losses of his parents and mentors, but his greatest love is his kitchen. Hassan is a young man who doesn’t pursue a life as a chef—it finds him by way of his mentor. This character proves that we often don’t recognize our own talents—it usually takes someone else to point them out to us.
A simple story about the complexities of the competitive restaurant industry, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a book that offers a change of pace from the usual choices in the fiction section.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com