When I was twelve, however, Papa decided to move upmarket, closer to Joshi's Hyderabad Restaurant, and he turned our old restaurant compound into the 365-seat Bollywood Nights. (2.55)
Papa feels competitive against Uday Joshi, who owns restaurants on the ritzy side of town. This competition against the wealthier class places the Haji family in a dangerous place, so right from the beginning we get the message that competition isn't good.
Madame Mallory did not do the decent thing. She did not cross the street and talk directly with Papa, try to reason with him. She never tried in any way to make us feel welcome. No, her first impulse was to crush us under her heels. Like we were bugs. (6.34)
Mallory is wired to be competitive. Her immediate reaction when she sees the sign for the Maison Mumbai is not to shake hands and wish her neighbors luck, it's to squash them like a bug.
I never say Papa so brilliant an operator—so charming, so ruthlessly determined to bend the will of others, and yet so generous in making them feel they had won. (8.35)
Papa is competitive to the bone, and he pours every ounce of his energy into retaliating against Mallory. It's practically an art form to him.
If I am honest, my rise to Paris over the next twenty years, it was not as difficult as one would suspect. It was as if some unseen spirit were clearing obstacles and helping me take the path that I believe was always destined for me. (13.1)
Hassan admits that he really doesn't have to fight to get where he's going, since he doesn't face any competition. It's like he's riding one heck of a wave of luck.
I worked hard but made no headway, as the freshness and zeal with which I'd started my work at Le Chien Méchant was institutionalized through constant repetition (13.106)
Hassan's not competitive toward other people, he's competitive toward himself. He wants to be better than he was before and starts to die when he can't one-up his former self.
Just weeks before, Gault Millau had demoted Paul from nineteen to fifteen points out of a possible twenty, a brutal reminder that today's critics and customers were obsessed with the culinary cubism of Chef Charles Mafitte. (14.12)
Paul's death coincides with the fact that he's slowly being run out of town by Chef Mafitte's innovative and flashy new trends. His death is directly related to the fact that competition is a serious part of his job.
"Well, apparently he thought that was you. I am, if I may be frank, not quite sure why he was so taken by you—you have only two stars, no? (15.37)
Paul's widow doesn't understand why someone as successful as her husband would make a friend who wasn't as renowned. Their friendship, though, is proof that Paul didn't value competition more than he valued the art form itself.
"No copying the heavy old brassiere dishes, no emulating the deconstructionalists and the minimalists, but our own unique house built on the simplest of French truths." (16.29)
Hassan's revelation, which becomes the key to his success, is tuning out all the corrupt nonsense that has come with everyone trying to out-do each other. He isn't going to play the game, instead he's going to ignore it… and win by doing so.
No doubt about it. The loss of a Michelin star would have brought the whole thing down. I shudder even to think about it." (16.48)
At Paul's memorial dinner, a guest comments that the right people saying the wrong things about him would have destroyed Paul's entire empire. Just like that. Talk about stiff competition.
"So, yes, he was running both the creative side and the business side, very admirable, but in reality, each had only his superficial attention. He was running and running but had no focus. Any businessman will tell you that is a recipe for disaster." (16.66).
Paul's biggest mistake was not that he didn't keep up with outside competition, it's that he lost the focus to compete with himself. He was running on empty, and because he couldn't challenge himself to be better, he failed.