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256 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2008
"Madame Mallory had spent the first part of the morning tour making me smell and taste various cabbages—the savoy, chubby little cancan dancers luridly fanning their ruffled green petticoats so we could get a sneak peek at their delicately pale and parting leaves inside, and the giant red cabbage, deep in color, like a bon vivant soused in a ruby red port wine before showing up merrily on the stall’s counter. “The thing you need to understand, Hassan, is that kohlrabi is the bridge between the cabbage and the turnip, and it melds the flavors of both vegetables. Remember that. It’s a subtle but important distinction that will help you decide when one vegetable is an ideal side dish, but not the other.”The prose in the first half of the book was simply scrumptious. Sadly, soon after, Paris would happen to Hassan. Where loneliness, hard work and prestige became his menu de jour, and the warmth of the mountain community became a forgotten after taste.
Hassan: "It was logical, with my heritage, that I would be drawn to Chef Mafitte’s “world cuisine,” which seemed to revel in combining the most bizarre ingredients from the most exotic corners of the earth, but if I leaned in any direction, it was toward Paul’s French classicism. Charles Mafitte’s “laboratory” creations were highly original, creative, and even at times breathtaking, but I could not help coming to the conclusion his culinary contrivances were, in the end, a triumph of style over substance. And yet it was undeniably his “chemical” cooking that had struck a chord with the critics and public alike these last several years, and, like it or not, Paul’s classically ornate fare was passé and seemed, in comparison, hopelessly outdated. But Paul was all honest blood and bones and meaty substance, and I, for one, was going to miss him deeply."In a full-circle moment, after climbing the ladder of success to the very top, Hassan finally realized that 'pheasant food' - like his grandmother taught him to make, like the ordinary people of France prepare in their kitchens, was the language of love, family, real friends. The real language of real food.
A sense of loss and longing, for Mummy and India. For lovable, noisy Papa. For Madame Mallory, my teacher, and for the family I never had, sacrificed on the altar of my ambition. For my late friend Paul Verdun. For my beloved grandmother, Ammi, and her delicious pearlspot, all of which I missed, on this day, of all days."It was his good friend, Paul, who tried to tell him something, while they were both bowing to the accolades of fame:
“Never, in all the three-star restaurants of France, will you taste anything finer,” he said. “We toil and toil, until we are exhausted, and nothing we do, if we are honest, will ever be as good as this, a simple bowl of tripe."The movie, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah, centered around the first half of the book with its strong story of family, love and hilarious cultural complexities. The ending was rewritten completely. It was by far the best version of the story. They zoned in on what should have been the main focus of the book.
Hassan: "And so, next day, Auntie and Mehtab helped me pack my bag and I crossed the street. A lot of emotion went into that hundred-foot journey, cardboard suitcase in hand, from one side of Lumière’s boulevard to the other. Before me the sugar-dusted willow tree, the leaded windows and the lace curtains, the elegant inn where even the warped wooden steps were soaked in great French traditions. And there, standing on Le Saule Pleureur’s stone steps, in white aprons, the taciturn Madame Mallory and kind Monsieur Leblanc, an elderly couple waiting with outstretched hands for their newly adopted son."Nevertheless, it is still a good read, very informative, although the souffle fell flat, when the novel ended and a memoir began, and when the oven door closed on Hassan's life in Lumière .
"It was such a small journey, in feet, but it felt as if I were striding from one end of the universe to the other, the light of the Alps illuminating my way."