Many of the moviegoers who have flocked to see “The Hundred-Foot Journey” have left the theater hungry, their appetites whetted by scenes of food being prepared and presented at two very different establishments, one a very formal French restaurant and the other an exuberant Indian one.
The movie traces the evolution of a chef from his boyhood trips to the teeming markets of Mumbai, learning from his mother to savor the tastes and smells of fresh ingredients, to his career in Paris’ most elevated restaurants.
Beautiful, mouthwatering images of food rival the film’s scenic montages of the French Alps and the Paris skyline.
Both cuisines, French and Indian, look very appealing throughout the movie, relying on fresh ingredients from land and sea, straight from the farmers’ market to the table.
The biggest difference between the cuisines — at least in the movie — is the reliance on technique and level of restraint deployed.
“It’s called subtlety,” sniffs the French chef, played by Helen Mirren. Her Indian counterpart will have none of that approach.
“If it’s good, don’t sprinkle it on, spoon it on!” he roars back across the 100 feet separating their restaurants.
Successfully fusing the French techniques with Indian flavors makes a superstar of young Hassan Kadam, who learns classic technique much the same as Julia Child did.
In auditioning for an apprenticeship with the French chef, Hassan must make a perfect omelet, one of the basic culinary cornerstones that Child wrote about at length.
“A good French omelet is a smooth, gently swelling, golden oval that is tender and creamy inside,” Child wrote.
“Before you even start to make one you must read, remember and visualize the directions from beginning to end and practice the movements.
“For everything must go so quickly once the eggs are in the pan that there is no time at all to stop in the middle and pour over your book to see what comes next.”
Child suggests practicing the shaking and flipping movements with a half-cup of dried beans in order to get the movement smooth before attempting it with eggs.
While the omelet-making scene and the rest of “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is fictional, there is a real-life chef whose story is similar to Hassan’s.
Floyd Cardoz, a Mumbai native, grew up surrounded by good cooks and after graduating from cooking schools in Mumbai and Switzerland, where he learned classical French technique, came to New York City.
Working in a French-Asian restaurant there, he brought together his two culinary passions.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he writes in his cookbook, “One Spice, Two Spice.”
“Even though I was about (7,000) miles away from India, I’d never felt more at home in my life.”
Cardoz’s family often visited relatives in Goa, one of India’s coastal states. Known for its beaches and seafood, Goa sounds somewhat similar to our own coastal communities, and Cardoz’s crab and shrimp recipes from a fusion with our own seafood that shrinks the 7,000 miles down to a very navigable journey just slightly more than the 100 feet of the movie.
Pan-fried Black Pepper Shrimp
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
30 extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
Juice of 1 lime, 2 to 3 tablespoons
Grind the peppercorns and coriander seeds separately in an electric grinder until medium-fine. Combine the ground spices with the olive oil in a bowl and mix well.
Add the shrimp, tossing to coat well. Marinate the shrimp, covered and chilled, for at least 1 and up to 24 hours.
Season the shrimp with salt. Heat 1⁄2 cup of the canola oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until the oil just begins to shimmer.
Carefully put half the shrimp in the skillet and pan-fry them until crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain the shrimp on paper towels or brown paper and drizzle with the lime juice.
Cook the remaining shrimp in the remaining oil and drizzle with lime juice in the same way.
(SOURCE Recipe from “One Spice, Two Spice,” by Floyd Cardoz)
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoons butter
Optional fillings: cheese, ham, or chopped spinach
Beat the eggs and seasonings in a mixing bowl for 20 to 30 seconds until the whites and yolks are just blended.
Place the butter in the pan and set over very high heat. As the butter melts, tilt the pan in all directions to film the sides.
When you see that the foam has almost subsided in the pan and the butter is on the point of coloring (indicating it is hot enough), pour in the eggs.
It is of utmost importance in this method that the butter be of the correct temperature.
Let the eggs settle in the pan for 2 or 3 seconds to form a film of coagulated egg in the bottom of the pan. Grasp the handle of the pan with both hands, thumbs on top and immediately begin jerking the pan vigorously and roughly toward you at an even, 20-degree angle over the heat, one jerk per second.
It is the sharp pull of the pan toward you which throws the eggs against the far lip of the pan, then back over its bottom surface. You must have the courage to be rough or the eggs will not loosen themselves from the bottom of the pan. After several jerks, the eggs will begin to thicken. A filling would go in at this point.
Increase the angle of the pan slightly, which will force the egg mass to roll over on itself with each jerk at the far lip of the pan.
As soon as the omelet has shaped up, hold it in the angle of the pan to brown the bottom a pale golden color, but only a second or two, for the eggs must not overcook.
The center of the omelet should remain soft and creamy. If the omelet has not formed neatly, push it with the back of your fork. Slide the omelet onto a plate and serve immediately.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child)
Indian-inspired French Onion Soup
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
11⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
3 large garlic cloves cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons peeled ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or cayenne
One 2-inch piece dried pasilla or Oaxaca chili pepper
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons brandy
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts chicken stock
1 rosemary sprig, 4 thyme sprigs and 4 cilantro stems and/or roots, tied together with kitchen string
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Edam
1⁄2 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or cayenne
1⁄4 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 pieces naan or country-style French bread cut to fit the bottom of soup bowls
Heat the oil in a 6- to 8- quart pot over moderate heat until it shimmers, and cook the cumin seeds, cloves, and bay leaves for I minute.
Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is softened and lightly colored, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the ginger and onions and cook, stirring, until nicely caramelized, about 40 minutes.
Add the turmeric, Aleppo pepper, chili, wine and brandy, scraping the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pot.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt, the chicken stock and the herbs, then simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the cloves, bay leaves, chili and herbs. Return the soup to very low heat to keep it warm, covered.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Stir the grated cheeses, ginger, Aleppo pepper, and cumin seeds together in a bowl.
Pat the cheese mixture on top of the bread and put on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Toast in the middle of the oven until the cheese is hot and bubbling, about 5 minutes.
Put the cheese toasts in the bottom of 6 bowls and ladle the soup over to serve.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “One Spice, Two Spice,” by Floyd Cardoz)