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Hassan Haji is born in West Bombay (the city which is now known as Mumbai). The first things he remembers from childhood? The smells coming from his grandfather's restaurant downstairs. So before he tells us his own story, he gives us the low down on his family history—starting with his grandfather, who kicked off the whole food thing.
Here's how it goes: Hassan's grandfather lives a poor life in Bombay, sleeping in the streets and delivering lunch boxes to workers. He eventually starts making a profit by cooking for American and English soldiers based in the city, and when that goes well, he buys some property and sets up shop by opening an official restaurant.
Papa takes over the business when the time comes and, as it turns out, he's more ambitious than good old grandfather. One example? He moves the location slightly uptown to be closer to the hustle and bustle of wealthy Mumbai. The place does well, but his actions cause tension between the upper and lower classes, and eventually the lower class riots, breaking into Papa's restaurant, destroying the place, and killing Hassan's mother. Yikes.
One thing's for sure: They can't stay in Mumbai. Papa sells the property, the family moves to England to live with relatives, and he tries to start a new business—but fails. The straw that breaks the camel's back is that they find Hassan making out with his cousin. The family has a fall-out and Papa packs them up to travel across Europe, sampling food and searching for a new home.
They settle in a tiny French town in the Alps called Lumière and buy a huge property across from an inn called Le Saule Pleureur. On it, they open the Maison Mumbai, which is the first Indian restaurant in the area.
There's instant trouble afoot in paradise. They immediately encounter the neurotic, competitive and high-and-mighty Madame Gertrude Mallory, who owns the inn across the street. Why does she care? She's disgusted with this invasion from the East that disrupts her elegant vibe across the street. Not to mention the competition. Papa and Mallory sabotage each other many times until one fateful tussle results in Hassan being pushed into a stove by accident.
Mallory sort of comes around, and in recompense, she offers to teach Hassan to become a chef because, by the way, she's discovered that he's got major talent in the kitchen. Papa grudgingly agrees and Hassan moves into Le Saule Pleureur.
Hassan spends a few exhausting years as Mallory's apprentice, learning everything there is to know about a French kitchen. He also has an affair with the lovely and sweet-as-sugar sous chef, Margaret Bonnier—ooh la la—but eventually it's time for him to strike out on his own and leave Lumière. He accepts a position working in a kitchen in Paris, leaves his family and Margaret behind, and heads to the city.
Hassan climbs the French restaurant ladder without too much trouble, which he always kind of secretly suspects is due to Mallory's background help, though she denies it. After working in a couple different places he opens up his own place—which he calls Le Chien Méchant—and impressively earns his first restaurant star in no time flat.
Because of his success, he meets the legendary restaurant and food mogul, Paul Verdun, who hears about Hassan and his work; it's pretty much friendship at first sight. Paul acts as a mentor and pal to Hassan, and they're both totally on the same page when it comes to classical old world cooking methods. See, the old ways are starting to be threatened by trendy new methods that don't value tradition. Ugh—what nonsense.
But then disaster strikes. Within a short period of time Hassan is hit by the death of Papa, Mallory, and Paul Verdun. Talk about feeling alone on the world, right? Hassan struggles to keep up with his own life but seems to have lost the people that kept him going.
Insert period of depression.
Eventually Hassan has a eureka moment and realizes that all the petty details of the world he's a part of is driving him crazy. He gives his restaurant a total makeover, and starting from scratch, he decides to go back to basic ingredients and methods.
This change earns him his third star, thus establishing his continued success in the restaurant world. At this time, Margaret also comes back into his life. Though they aren't officially together when the books ends, we're lead to believe that they have a happily ever after.