Watch actor Manish Dayal flip a cilantro-flecked omelet in The Hundred-Foot Journey—a culture clash between an immigrant Indian family and the owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant, set in the south of France—and you’ll never guess he spent a frenetic month immersed in culinary bootcamp.
“We filleted and we chopped,” said the 31-year-old, who worked with gourmands including Indian-American chef, Floyd Cardoz, to train for the role of Hassan Kadam, a kitchen prodigy. “I quickly learned that it’s all about the prep work.”
The film, which is co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, directed by Lasse Hallström and scored by A.R. Rahman, hit theaters on August 8th. It stars Dayal, (whose previous credits included a role on the teen television series, 90210) opposite heavy-hitters like Helen Mirren and Bollywood veteran, Om Puri, in addition to Canadian actress, Charlotte Le Bon.
“I got one of the coolest phone calls I’ve ever received last June saying, ‘Steven wants to hire you,'” Dayal revealed, the culmination of a casting process that took a painstaking four months.
"it’s a film about two displaced cultures coming together and going after something great by taking risks"
As a self-proclaimed Jurassic Park junkie, Dayal grew up on a steady diet of Spielberg epics.
“His movies always hit me hard when I was growing up because they brought everything I imagined to life,” he said. “And while there’s no CGI in The Hundred-Foot Journey, it’s very clear to me why Steven’s involved — it’s a film about two displaced cultures coming together and going after something great by taking risks, both re-occurring themes in his films.”
In real life, Dayal, who graduated from George Washington University, was born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina and belonged to one of the few Indian families in town.
“My family’s experience is similar to Hassan’s family’s in the sense that they both built a life for themselves by relying on their instincts and talents,” he explained. “And everything was centered around food."
“What makes our movie unique is its ability to go beyond the cultural and racial limitations we see in so many South Asia-related films"
The film’s iconic masala omelet, seasoned with red pepper, coriander and buttermilk is actually a spin on his father’s original recipe.
“What makes our movie unique is its ability to go beyond the cultural and racial limitations we see in so many South Asia-related films,” Dayal said. “It’s a really smart take on how the characters relate to each other, but also how they don’t.”
Whether Dayal will eventually take a page from the Kadam family playbook and look overseas for opportunity—aka Bollywood—remains to be seen. “I don’t know about the whole song-and-dance thing,” he admitted. “But if India will have me, the independent cinema scene there is something I’m really interested in."