We found our beautiful bed and breakfast in Saint Antonin Noble Val before we realised that it was the location chosen for the film, One Hundred Foot Journey. We had watched the film on one of the many long haul flights between Melbourne and the UK to visit parents. We love the film, a gentle feel-good film ideal for losing yourself for a couple of hours.
I’m not a big film watcher, much preferring a book. I think that books provide so much more detail for your imagination than films, although One Hundred Foot journey has become a firm favourite of mine.
It’s also been a favourite of many of our guests who over the years have visited Saint Antonin Noble Val because of the film. Not only is the film sprinkled with fabulous scenes of St Antonin Noble Val, great actors but also a few Saint Antonin Noble Val locals as well.
Despite having seen the film many times, I have never read the book and I was curious to know whether the film was a true representation of the book by the same name written by journalist and novelist Richard C. Morais. Finally, as we settled into our quiet winter period, I was able to curl up, read the book and re-watch the film.
After binging on both, I was surprised how much the film deviated from the book. I wasn’t expecting a full re-creation of the book, it would be impossible in a two hour film but there were big omissions that amazed me, especially as it had been reported that author Richard Morais had written his novel with a film in mind.
The book takes a circuitous route from Mumbai to London, through many European countries before arriving in Lumière, a small French village in the French Alps and then finally to Paris. In the book we also learn about the evolution of Indian and French food from impoverished rural India to the fusion of Indian and French food, fine French Cuisine and finally the creation of modern French cuisine.
Following migration from rural India, the story of the Haji family substantially begins in Mumbai with the establishment of family restaurant in a poor suburb to feed homesick soldiers during the second world war. Hassan, the second grandchild of Bapaji (who does not appear in the film) the founder of the original roadside shack is born above the restaurant. He recalls his childhood through the intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother.
Both the restaurant and the family grow over time to become a successful local landmark. After the death of Bapaji, political tensions result in family tragedy and forces them out of India. They settle first in Southall, London with distant family (the soggy egg sandwiches are a disappointment) then drive through Europe, before settling in Lumière, a small village in the French Alps, exhausted from travel and too much food.
As in the film an Indian restaurant is established “100-feet” away from a renowned classic French restaurant, boasting two Michelin stars in Lumière. The French village chosen for the filming location was Saint Antonin Noble Val.
Madame Mallory (Helen Miran) the head chef of Le Saule Pleuruer does everything she can to undermine the new restaurant just across the street. Eventually she comes to realise that Hassan (Manish Dayal), the son of the owner, Abbas (Om Puri) has a talent for cooking and offers him an apprenticeship at her restaurant to study French cooking.
Throughout the book the description of food and cooking is beautifully described. For example, Hassan dining in Marseille describes eating tiny clams “no bigger than babies’ fingernails, which, are “grown in the restaurant’s own grotto under the pounding cliff face”, while observing “When we arrived, the sun was setting, like a mango sorbet dripping over the horizon”.
Describing cooking itself a pan seethes with “prattling onions and furiously spitting lemon grass” and “the smell of searing lamb's flesh and cumin and bubbling fat came to us in the wind, and the simplicity of it all”. The film is about food, but the book evokes it.
After serving an apprenticeship under Chef Mallory, Hassan and one of his sisters move to Paris to set up their own very successful restaurant. It’s at this point that the film deviates from the film again cutting Hassan’s whole journey to Paris short which is an essential part of his story. His friendship with chefs and critics, built with he suspects the help of Madame Mallory, are completely omitted.
Instead, the rest of the film follows the struggles and successes of Hassan including a flirtatious relationship with French sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) as he makes that “100-foot journey” across the street, falls in love and goes to Paris to pursue his dreams.
The purpose of the move to Paris was for Hassan to open his own restaurant but the film shows him working at a high-class restaurant in Paris, earning Michelin stars with them. This is a shame because the film would be more interesting if it had included the opening and operating of his own restaurant, as his grandfather had done in Mumbai. The lessons he learnt from his own family’s history, culture and his own natural talent contributed to Hassan (spoiler alert) becoming one of the greatest chefs in French cuisine.
Hassan earning his third Michelin star was not captured in the film. In the book, Hassan’s sole purpose was to become a great chef, and to earn those Michelin stars to be classified as one of the top chefs in French cuisine. When Hassan eventually won his third star the book describes him walking out into the middle of his restaurant and seeing, slowly, everyone getting up and clapping for what he had achieved. This part in the novel was so descriptive that it was so easy to visualise and would have been a great ending to the film.
So, which is better, the book or the film? It depends. If you’re looking for escape into a sugar sweet, feelgood story, then the film is for you. If you’re a real foodie, or you like more character development than you usually get in a film then it’s got to be the book. For me and unusually, I am going to sit on the fence and say that I love both for different reasons.
Throughout the year there are many festivals and exhibitions in the area. If you book directly with us at www.laresidence-france.com you will pay 15% less than if you book through an online travel agent and receive a link to access our exclusive electronic guidebook containing more places to visits, local restaurants and amenities, markets information and much more.
Best wishes and see you soon