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The hundred-foot journey

The 2014 comedy-drama “The Hundred Foot Journey,” produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, highlights not just good food and young love, but also gives realistic insights into family businesses.

Papa and Mama Kadam (played by Om Puri and Juhi Chawla, respectively) used to manage a restaurant in Mumbai, India. Mama was the chief cook, while Papa did the accounts. The talented second son Hassan (Manish Dayal) was being trained to take over Mama’s duties, but Mama was killed when the restaurant was attacked by a mob.

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Fleeing to rural France, the Kadam family started an Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai. All was not well, however, because 100 feet across the street was the Michelin-starred French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur (The Weeping Willow), run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).

A clash of cultures ensued: the spicy aromas of Indian cooking versus the aristocratic overtones of French haute cuisine; the loud volume and vibrant music of Bollywood versus the quiet dignified air of French dining; the down-to-earth, family-oriented cooking of Indian cooks versus the meticulous, by-the-book training of French chefs.

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One night, without Madame Mallory’s knowledge, some of her chefs bombed Maison Mumbai, burning Hassan’s hands and legs in the process.

Madame Mallory fired the instigator, and set about making things right. In the meantime, Hassan had fallen in love with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), one of Madame Mallory’s sous-chefs.

Generation gap

Hassan had big dreams, and despite his father’s disapproval, he sought out Madame Mallory, and after making her a delicious omelette, she invited him to work for her.

Aside from the clash of cultures, there was also the clash of generations. In many family businesses, young people accuse the older generations of being old-fashioned and traditional. Stung by these perceptions, the elders retort that the old ways worked pretty well before, and that until the young ones have proven themselves, they have no right to make major decisions.

Papa did not want Hassan to forsake his Indian heritage and work for the competitor. Hassan, on the other hand, could not understand how Papa could deny him such a fortuitous opportunity.

Madame Mallory finally told Papa that Hassan had talent, to be honed, for the benefit of all. She was thinking about Hassan’s future, but at the same time, she was honest about her own reasons for training him: she wanted another Michelin star for her restaurant.

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Hassan then made the hundred-foot journey across the street to begin formal training. Eventually, Hassan’s imaginative cooking—a blend of East and West—garnered a second Michelin star for Madame Mallory.

Home sweet home

By this time, the two families and the two restaurants were cooperating with each other. Papa and Madame Mallory began a friendship that hinted at more. But everyone knew that Hassan had a bright future, and he needed to pursue his dream.

National recognition came, and Hassan went to Paris, where he made waves in the culinary scene. Hassan had achieved his dreams, and the story might have ended there.

But “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a feel-good movie. Hassan became homesick, and he missed Marguerite. The ending is predictable, though no less happier for that: Hassan returned home, and with Madame Mallory’s blessing, he purchased a share in her restaurant. Both he and Marguerite planned to succeed Madame Mallory, and vowed to work for another Michelin star.

When the Indian and the French restaurants cooperate instead of compete against each other, both benefit.   This can be an eye-opener for family businesses. Instead of going head to head against each other, small- or medium-scale businesses can instead learn to work together, thereby ensuring a more viable future for everyone. With the advent of Asean open-trade, smaller family businesses may lose out to corporate behemoths unless they maximize impact.

“After you get to experience or step into somebody else’s shoes or see them for a real human being,” says Oprah Winfrey, “you understand that you’re really more alike than you are different.” Next week: Are the Chinese really the most hard-working people?

(Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (email [email protected]) Email the author at [email protected])

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TAGS: ‘the hundred foot journey’, Business, column, family businesses, queena n. lee-chua
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