Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais - author interview

“I wanted a book that would marry Ismail’s love of film with his love of food. When I couldn't find a novel that fit the bill, I sat down and wrote one.”

Few people can claim to have experienced a life quite as professionally and culturally diverse as Richard Morais. Although Morais is a dual American-Canadian citizen, he was born in Portugal and spent his life until the age of sixteen in Zurich, Switzerland. Only then did he return to his homeland to attend the Sarah Lawrence College on the outskirts of New York. It was here that Morais began his professional career as a news intern, before joining the Forbes team in 1986. Three years after joining Forbe’s he convinced them to send him to London, where he lived for seventeen years becoming Forbes’ longest serving foreign correspondent. 

Whilst on this wonderfully varied journey, Morais happened to establish a firm friendship with the late Ismail Merchant, the founder of Merchant Ivory Films. Morais remembers Ismail as a larger than life character with a deep passion for food, who, even when he was your friend, was always working out how you could be of value to his many adventures and exploits. Morais recalls, for example, a perfect example of how Ismail’s intuition always ensured as much gain from a situation as possible. 

“Early on in our friendship, when I was living in London and writing a Forbes story about Merchant Ivory Productions, I informed Ismail I was going to drive down to the West Country manor house where Jim Ivory was filming Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Ismail was delighted and said he would come with me and I should pick him up at Merchant Ivory’s offices in Soho the next morning. At the agreed upon time, I drove my Fiat Punto over to MIP’s Dickensian offices. Ismail came out and looked aghast at my tiny car. I soon realized why. He filled my Fiat to the rafters with paintings and pots and plastic bags of what have you, items all urgently needed on the set. When I was sure not a single additional item could fit into the tiny car, Ismail shoehorned into the backseat an unshaven and bleary-eyed Bollywood cameraman, right off the plane from Bombay. Plus a massive camera. We could barely move. Ismail himself then jumped in the front seat, smacked the dashboard with the palm of his hand, and said, "Let's go!" Within minutes, literally, Ismail was fast asleep and snoring and didn’t wake until I had pulled into the West Country film lot three hours later. Ismail woke up, fresh as a daisy and very pleased that he had just saved Merchant Ivory the expense of hiring a car and driver. That was all part of Ismail's great charm.”

One evening whilst dining at the Bombay Brasserie (London), following a viewing of In Custody which Merchant directed, Morais put it to Merchant that he should create a film that marries his love of the kitchen with his love of film making. Morais hoped to find a literary product that could be adapted in to a film, a novel where food was not just a strand of the plot, but so much a fundamental aspect of the novel that the food and the story are impossible to tear apart. When no story could be found Morais decided to write it himself.
The result was Morais’s suitably food driven debut novel The Hundred-Foot Journey, a feast of a book that provides the reader with charm, wit, and a thought provoking story of life’s lessons.

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