Local Author Writes Novel Foodies Will Love

And, oh yeah, he roasted a baby goat in his Chestnut Hill backyard, too

Chestnut Hill author Richard Morais
PHOTO: Lizanne Merrill

Richard Morais’ neighbors in Chestnut Hill won’t be surprised that his novel The Hundred-Foot Journey is a paean to French haute cuisine and exotic Indian dishes. Former Forbes magazine London bureau chief Morais, after all, is the guy who roasted a baby goat in his backyard last summer, and invited most of the Hill to share in it. The Hundred-Foot Journey, set in Mumbai, the French countryside, and Paris, is filled with delightful cooking scenes: It’s the story of a young Indian man, Hassan, who moves to an Alpine village and opens a restaurant across from a two-star relais run by the indomitable Mme. Mallory. At first, she sneers at Hassan; then, she realizes that he has the culinary equivalent to perfect pitch, and becomes his mentor.

Q: You’ve said that your book, which features a character who leaves India as a young man and moves to France, was inspired by your friend film director Ismail Merchant.

A: Yes, I was friends with Ismail Merchant, who made those beautiful movies in the 1980s and ‘90s, Room with a View and Remains of the Day. He was of Indian descent, originally from Mumbai. We were in London when he suggested I write a novel that could become a film. It took me a very long time because I had a very demanding day job, and Forbes taught me to write short—executives don’t have a lot of time, so everything has to be compact. The first version was a novella, and Harper Collins India bought it. I did a book tour in India, they loved it there, and then it was sold to Scribner in the U.S., and I expanded it.

Q: Are the characters based on people you know?

A: I had a grandmother who lived in Cherry Hill, and frankly, Mme. Mallory is a bit like my grandmother. Hassan’s father is much like Ismail Merchant. And there’s a character in the book who was inspired by a three-star chef in France who committed suicide when they took away his third star.

Q: Do you love to cook? What are your favorite places to eat in Philly?

A: All the men in my family are great cooks, my dad is a fantastic cook. But I’m purely a self-taught, intuitive cook, so I had to do an awful lot of research. I got into some of the top kitchens in London, New York and Mumbai.  I love Vietnam on 11th Street, I hugely admire Stephen Starr, particularly Pod. I like the unpretentious ethnic food, in Whitemarsh there’s a fantastic place, Persian Grill. And Saffron in Bala Cynwyd.

Q: Will Hollywood turn your book into the next “Slumdog Millionaire”?

A: From your lips to God’s ears! It’s in active film development.