From Salmon to Saffron: A Homecoming
by Abhishek Das
In Today’s Special (2009), protagonist Samir must overcome personal failures and decide whether to continue life as an American chef or embrace his Indian culture and run his family restaurant.
When we cook for the first time, we are afraid that an aspect of a dish might be ill-prepared: the amount of coriander to add, the temperature at which the masala can be heated, or even the proper basmati rice serving. We prepare food countless times to achieve perfection. This always comes through practice, and often with the assistance of a mentor. In the film Today’s Special, Samir acquires a mentor who provides him a profound connection with food. This mentor, Akbar, teaches Samir how to cook and appreciate the art of Indian cuisine.
At the outset of the film, viewers meet Samir, a talented sous chef who cannot find a restaurant opportunity. He resigns from his job as he is passed over for another head chef position because his employer feels that he is too methodical and lacks passion in his cooking. Being denied a new job forces Samir into introspection; he wonders how he can cook food with more passion and zeal. In addition, Samir’s father, Hakim, owner of Tandoori Palace, is selling the family restaurant. This event forces Samir to come home and take over the business after his father falls ill.
With zero experience in Indian cuisine, Samir lacks consistency and care for preparing Indian dishes. Along with Hakim’s emotional disownment of his son, Samir sees little use in appreciating Indian food culture, let alone running the restaurant. This animosity towards home is directly reflected by his inability to incorporate spices and emotion into his cooking. To improve his cooking skills, Samir hires Akbar, a previously a high accomplishing chef from India.
Akbar functions as a foil to Hakim, as Samir learns intricacies of spice combinations and other food preparations in Indian cuisine from Akbar. Hakim has long been disappointed in his son, and Samir has never looked to him for fatherly assistance. This theme of disconnect and disappointment Hakim feels for his son reflects their poor relationship and the substandard quality of Tandoori Palace.
Akbar transforms the restaurant into a well-known establishment, but must move away. Samir, as if reborn, becomes entranced by the smell, taste, and touch of the strongly aromatic myriad of spices he presides over. He recounts Akbar’s adages of “one must trust the aromas before adding ingredients” and “determine the character of dosa according to the chef’s mood” to provide a dimension of synesthesia to his cooking. This all-encompassing form of cooking transfers to his customers. Samir continues to draw from his Indian culture to cultivate his passion of cooking, which is directly noticed in the increasing success of his restaurant.
Samir finds pleasure in making Indian food by discovering cooking as a natural passion and not a systematic process. He learns to appreciate the history behind the food he creates, allowing him to rebuild his career as a chef and accept the rich history of Indian cuisine.
Kaplan, David, director. Today’s Special. Reliance MediaWorks Ltd. 2009.