I always break for foodie films when surfing Netflix, but initially I zoomed right by Today’s Special, maybe I was too busy with the popcorn bin. But after another go around, when I paused it was Madhur Jaffrey’s name that jumped out at me, then the chef garb on Aasif Mandvi made me smile and the spice bowls next to him hit me. It was food starring in film at my fingertips!
During a visit to Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco, somehow (and not so far fetched really being it is a bookstore) Jhumpa Lahiri, an author who’s work I deeply appreciate, came into conversation. That soon lead to a recommendation to read Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey’s name vaguely tickled my memory, but regardless, fascinated with Indian cuisine and culture, I couldn’t let go. Climbing the Mango Trees ventured home with me. Not long after that, I stumbled upon one of Jaffrey’s cookbooks and that too made it’s way to my overstuffed bookshelf. With Jaffrey’s memoir and cookbook on my mind, discovering the movie all within a short time span was a little bit like serendipity.
The Movie: Today’s Special
While the art of crafting authentic Indian food takes a bit of serious persistence, there’s plenty of laughs coming out of the Today’s Special kitchen. The film shares the story of Samir (played by actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi) a sous chef at a fancy New York restaurant. Rather content with his work, it wasn’t until he was passed over for a promotion that he impulsively decides to quit his job. Samir whips up a plan of apprenticing in Paris, and then attempts to pursue his dream. Fate has other plans though. Samir’s father Hakim (Harish Patel), turns ill and is unable to manage the family business. Samir’s mother Farrida, (played by legendary cookbook writer and actor, Madhur Jaffrey) reaches out to persuade her son, despite his rocky relationship with his father, to help manage Tandoori Palace. The restaurant is nearly bankrupt, has a disorderly kitchen and practically no customers to serve, a sharp change from what Samir is accustomed to. Despite his own heritage, Samir is not at all familiar with preparing Indian dishes. Luckily, he crosses paths with a cab driver named Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah, an icon of Indian cinema) who happens to be a passionate cook. Samir finds himself doing a little persuading of his own and entices Akbar to head back into the kitchen along with him. Both Samir and Tandoori Palace are eventually inspired and transformed.
The film was thoroughly entertaining, and had me craving Indian food by the end of it. Luckily there’s an abundance of Indian restaurants and markets within reach here in Silicon Valley. Even our farmer’s markets on the weekend host stalls with fresh made Indian curries and hot naan bread. Here’s my recipe for a fun evening and great way to enjoy the film.
There’s nothing more fun than cooking in a group. Celebrate Indian cuisine with one of Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. There’s a recipe on Yumivore from an Indian friend for a dish called Chayote Squash Subzi, it’s delightful. Or visit Deb at Kahakai Kitchen who’s hosting a Food’n Flix evening with lots of special dishes on the menu.
Make It Movie and Moves Night: Go Bollywood
Invite friends over to dress up in traditional Indian garb before coming over to watch the movie together. Afterward, play the soundtrack from Today’s Special or your other favorite Bollywood-esque movies such as Slum Dog Millionaire or Monsoon Wedding and you’ve got a party going.
Dish Up Something Delicious
Whether you cook together and or dress up for the occasion, you’ll want food at this affair, otherwise the movie will leave you famished. It’s customary in Indian to eat with your hands, so finger foods is a great option. Small size potato and pea samosas is a tasty way to start. Consider using a cookie cutter to cut small rounds out of the naan bread and place your favorite curries on top for small appetizers. Or serve a medley of Indian dishes on a silver (okay metal) platter for each guest. Mango lassi is a wonderful drink along with the meal, and festive when poured into a shot glass. End the meal with Indian sweets and you’ve just hosted a perfect food and film date.
What would you serve with Today’s Special? And your favorite Indian dish?