"Food is memories," states characters Hassan, played by Manish Dayal, and Marguerite, played by Charlotte Le Bon, early in the new romantic foodie movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey. We all intrinsically know that food is memories - just think of your favorite childhood candy to let a rush of physical and mental sensations come running back - and this is why the audience was so swept away by the film during a private screening last week in Chicago. Beautiful shots of food markets and in-kitchen culinary feats, not to mention the ever-lovely images of Southern France, made this movie an endearing and tender story, and a joy to watch.
Based on the award-winning book by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey is about an Indian family that moves to Southern France to a less than warm welcome, particularly from a local restaurateur, Madame Mallory, played by Helen Mirren. When she learns that they are opening an Indian restaurant opposite her Michelin Star establishment, she becomes particularly outraged. However, over time, the common love of food and the gifted culinary sensibilities of Hassan, one of the elder sons, melts the icy war and cultural barriers, and more than one romance ensues.
The success of the movie, produced by Steven Spielberg, Juliet Blake and Oprah Winfrey, is that it serves to remind us of the joy of eating together and the connection that food can bring to families, communities and love affairs. The movie allows all these relationships to flourish, and, in addition, fosters a different kind of love altogether: the one between the audience and the movie, which reminds us what it means to be present in daily life and our natural surroundings.
Many of Chicago's best chefs attended the screening in support of the film and the co-sponsoring charities of the screening: The Trotter Project, Common Threads and Pilot Light. Chef Bill Kim, of restaurants Urban Belly and Belly Q and who was in attendance, knows all about bridging the cultural gap through food. "It comes with my marriage to a Puerto Rican woman and trying to bridge Asian and Latin together. People always thought that it is difficult.... but we live it every single day."
Chicago, recognized as a city of neighborhoods with restaurants that celebrate and heighten cuisines from around the globe, has been an important city for making cross-cultural connections over food. Chef Matthias Merges of Yusho, A10 Hyde Park and Billy Sunday restaurants and Board President of Pilot Light was also in attendance. He certainly knows all about melting hearts with food. "There are a few tangible examples in our lives today which bridge the cultural gap more directly and effectively than food and sharing in the pleasures of the table. Preparing food in a kitchen then serving at a table with others - be it with family or friends - creates an intimate opportunity to slow down and reconnect with the joys of life."
Perhaps famed Chef Art Smith, co-founder of Common Threads and in attendance at the screening, said it best. "Food is peace. Food is love. Food is something that we call can agree upon. We all love to eat. My life has been as a chef for very important people, as well as cooking for multitudes of people in our restaurants across the county. A little food goes a long way. It is important to realize, when all else fails, feed them. I have a favorite saying, 'When you want people to come, feed them. When you want them to stay, feed them more. You want to change bills or you want to change people's minds, feed 'em a lot!' "
The Hundred-Foot Journey opens in theaters August 8th and is truly a gem for the whole family.
Follow Elysabeth Alfano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DinnerPartyChgo