After a recent screening of “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a moviegoer turned to me and asked if I had ever tasted sea urchin.
The prickly purple pincushion plays a pivotal role in this elaborate and engaging food tale. The roe, or the inner belly, is most often consumed raw. On Japanese sushi menus it is often labeled as “uni.”
In the opening scene, viewers meet Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) as he weaves his way through an Indian market as a boy and is captivated by his first taste of sea urchin, which, years later, he describes as no less than “the taste of life.”
Kadam, who grows into a naturally gifted cook with an extraordinary palate, and his family, led by Papa (Om Puri), run a traditional restaurant. After their restaurant is burned to the ground by political protesters, the displaced family winds up in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, a quaint village in the south of France.
But when the family opens the colorful and exotic Maison Mumbai just 100 feet from Le Saule Pleureur’s, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by the haughty maven of haute cuisine Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the ingredients for a culture clash threaten to boil over.
Worried about the competition as well as what she perceives as a lack of respect for her country’s cuisine, Madame Mallory dishes out insults about everything from the smell of curry to the plastic place mats. She prevails on market vendors to sell their wares only to her. She makes a complaint to the minister about the noise pollution caused by the family’s traditional music. She even dumps a peace offering in the trash.
But when her xenophobic behavior encourages her cooks to go too far, Madame Mallory agrees to cook an omelet with Hassan. (Marguerite, played by Charlotte Le Bon, Mallory’s beautiful and kind sous chef, told Hassan that Madame hires her cooks after tasting their omelets).
Hassan’s version — made with his mother’s fragrant Indian spices that he has carted across the continent in a suitcase — melts Madame’s frosty exterior. (“It’s sharp and cool in the mouth, all at once. Do you know how much it takes chefs to learn that?”) Or course, she takes Hassan under under her wing, vowing to teach him the fundamentals of French cuisine, which, she tells Papa, will become his springboard to a better life.
And the proof is in the Beef Bourguignon , which Hassan and Madame Mallory serve to Papa, by now less of a critic of his adopted homeland with all those fancy sauces and a sprinkling — rather than a spoonful — of spice.
As food-centric films go, “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” directed by Lasse Hallstrom and produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, is lovely to look at and certainly heartwarming, if somewhat predictable. References to the power of critics and the ridiculousness of cauliflower ice cream made me laugh out loud.
My biggest disappointment? The cards sent as a promotion for the movie featured only French recipes from Le Cordon Bleu. No recipe for Indian tikka or sea urchin? I don’t think a recipe for a curry hotdog counts.
Omelettes aux Fines Herbes
Makes 4 to 6 servings
5 sprigs fresh chervil
5 sprigs parsley
5 sprigs fresh tarragon
5 ounces clarified butter, divided
1 dozen eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pick the the leaves off the chervil, parsley, and tarragon, and trim the bottoms off the chives. Blanch the herbs separately in boiling water, then refresh immediately in ice water. Squeeze out the excess water and finely chop. Warm a large plate and brush the center with butter. Lightly season plate with salt and pepper; set aside and keep warm.
Break the eggs in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk well. Add the chopped herbs. Heat the remainder of the clarified butter in the omelette pan over medium heat. When the butter is hot, pour the egg mixture into the pan. Gently stir with a fork, lifting the bottom to let uncooked egg flow underneath. The eggs should not set too quickly or take on too much color.
Once the eggs are almost completely set, that is, they can no longer be stirred, give the pan a good shake or tap. Lift the pan almost vertically; with the aid of a fork, fold the omelette in half and slip it onto the prepared plate, folding it again onto itself. cover with a clean kitchen towel, and press along the sides, forming points at each end. Brush the top of the omelet with clarified butter before serving.
Source: Le Cordon Blue recipe card for “The Hundred-Foot Journey”
Beef Bourguignon a la Hassan
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs of beef, fat removed and cut into 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 ounces apple wood smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves, tied in a string
2 bay leaves
18 small pearl onions, peeled
18 baby carrots, peeled and cut into half if longer than 2 inches (otherwise kept whole)
18 baby turnips, peeled and cut in half
1/2 pound chanterelles mushrooms, cleaned trimmed and cut in half
2 onions, diced
1 garlic head, cloves separated, peeled, and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground brown mustard seed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (750-milliliter) bottle red Burgundy wine
1 quart white beef stock
4 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chervil leaves
Preheat oven to 325degrees. Season the beef with salt and pepper and lightly coat with the flour. Keep at room temperature for 30 minutes. Reserve extra flour.
Place a large stew pot over moderate heat and add the bacon and canola oil. Cook until fat is rendered; remove bacon. In the same pot sear the short ribs until lightly colored. Take care not to burn the pan. Remove the beef.
Add pearl onions to pan and cook for 2-3 minutes; remove onions and reserve. Repeat this process with the carrots and turnips. Add the chanterelles and sauté for 1 minute; remove and reserve. Add the butter to the leftover oil in the pan and add the cloves, bay leaf and cook for 1 minute. Add minced onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 4-5 minutes until transparent. Add the cumin and mustard seed and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the leftover flour and the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with wine and bring to a boil. Add the beef stock and bring up to a boil. Add the bacon and the short ribs to the pan; bring to a boil reduce heat. Add thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Place the pot in the oven and cook approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours
Add the carrots, turnips and the pearl onions. Cook for 30 minutes more.
Take out of oven add sugar and remove clove, parsley and bay leaves. Add the chanterelles. Re-season with salt. At this time the stew should be not as saucy and a bit thicker. This stew tastes better the next day. Garnish with parsley and chervil.
Source: Chef Floyd Cardoz of Le Cordon Bleu for “The Hundred-Foot Journey”