Published: August 9 2011
Number of pages: 272
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: contemporary, French cooking, romance, family
Audience: older adults
Rating: 4/5 owl hoots
Hassan Haji first experienced cooking when working in his grandfather’s restaurant in Mumbai. But after a tragedy, Hassan and his family move to the French Alps, Lumiere where they open up their Indian restaurant. The family takes the town by storm while provoking their stubborn neighbor, Madame Mallory, the owner of the esteemed French restaurant. After waging a culinary war with the family, Madame Mallory finally decides to tutor Hassan leading him to Paris for new culinary adventures.
I regretted not reading the book first as I liked it better then the movie. If I had known about it before then I would have read it, but in this case I didn’t find out about the book until after. This was a big mistake because the book is far better and I could easily pinpoint the changes that the producers deliberately made in the film. It was probably for a good reason too as the character’s stories don’t end as well compared to the “happily ever after” ending seen in the film.
The characters for instance, are portrayed very differently especially Madame Mallory. In the book, she is a very cold-hearted and stubborn woman full of pride and dignity. An esteemed restaurateur and owner of Le Saule Pleureur, Madame Mallory is the icon of classic French cuisine. She is very cultured and sophisticated but has a short tempter, so when the Haji family moves into Lumiere and open up their family restaurant across the street, she immediately takes a dislike to them. She is crueler to the Haji family after they open their restaurant, and I was shocked as to how she goes to extreme measures shutting them down. But after realizing how cruel and selfish she was, Madame Mallory opens up and eventually takes Hassan under her wing to teach him French cooking. This is where Hassan’s journey begins, inside the kitchen of Le Saule Pleureur.
The characters really stand out, my personal favorites are the Haji family members because they are so animated and lively, particularly the father who holds his family together with his determination and knows how to charm his neighbors with his booming personality. Hassan Haji is the star of the story as he makes his way up the culinary ladder from cooking Indian to classic French cuisine. I love how the story is told in his voice, like he was telling his story directly to me as he journeys from Mumbai to Lumiere and lastly Paris where his achievements are recognized all over France. But what I loved most was how the writing was so detailed that you can imagine the look, feel, and smells of the French kitchen. I badly wanted to skip to the descriptions of the food because the paragraphs about the rich juices and sauces and the succulent meats and vegetables were so hard to resist that I immediately wanted to eat French food afterwards. This would be a good time to note not to read this book in an empty stomach or else you will get hunger pangs after!
This is a great culinary story about an immigrant from Mumbai who is taught classic French cooking and is recognized and accepted by culinary enthusiasts for his accomplishments as he rises into fame. I don’t know why the producers decided to change Madame Mallory’s character and the rest of the story, if they had stayed true to the book then I would have been less surprise to the unexpected turn of events for the characters as not everything ended up well for everyone. This isn’t really a romance story either except for the love of French food but other then that, I enjoyed reading this story and prefer this to the movie.