Film that ticks all the boxes
YOU’VE probably seen the posters for The HundredFoot Journey starring Helen Mirren. It opens next week. It’s a shamelessly feelgood movie combining so many favourite things that it’s almost indecent. Indian food? Tick. Life in idyllic rural France? Tick. Foodie-ness generally? Tick. Helen Mirren? Tickety tick.
She plays the snooty owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant in the perfect French village and she’s furious when an Indian family opens an all-singing, all-dancing restaurant across the road (100 feet away, you see). But it’s not revealing too much to say that by the happy-ever-after ending they all adore each other.
It’s light, it’s sweet, it’s a perfect soufflé of a film. Yet the cuisine scenes genuinely impressed chef Loic Malfait of the Cordon Bleu cookery school – the holy of holies – who invited me to an evening workshop. He is not a man who is easily impressed.
Watching Masterchef and indeed Bake Off (that’s got a bit heavy hasn’t it?) has persuaded me that though I love cooking I’d be hopeless under pressure. Pottering around my kitchen, chopping things, playing music… is a joy. Simply stepping in to a Cordon Bleu teaching kitchen had me feeling faintly jittery. That phrase “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” makes perfect sense when you’re pan-frying a piece of fish under chef’s critical eye. The heat of the ovens is weirdly more intense than any domestic cooker – like the centre of a halogen-lit volcano. Not only that but you’re swathed in a high-neck Cordon Bleu apron (quite stylish) and you’re nervous. And terribly hot. Did I mention that?
Our first task was to cook an omelette. This is the test that the Helen Mirren character gives to apprentice chefs. Sounds easy but try doing it with surprisingly shaky hands and a humorously sardonic Frenchman looking over your shoulder. Chef tasted a morsel, made a non-committal sound and nodded once. I wiped sweaty palms on apron and suddenly realised I’d mistaken the grated coconut (this was French cooking with an Indian twist) for sea-salt but happily it didn’t seem to have done anything awful to my omelette. I think I got away with it. Maybe.
Then on to the main dish: monkfish mouclade, baby vegetables and chickpea purée. The purée failed to smear artistically across the plate in the approved pro manner but I thought I disguised it cunningly under a teetering tower of veg. Then, flushed and elated, we showed our plates to chef (like children desperate for his approval), took them to the dining room and gobbled everything up with a glass or two of wine. Utterly delicious, though I say so myself. The high point? Shouting “Yes, chef” like they do on the telly. Thrilling.
MICHELIN STAR: Dame Helen Mirren