If you only know Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show (or even Spiderman 2), you've missed a 20-year career that includes a film with film producer Ismail Merchant and his Obie-winning one-man show Sakina's Restaurant. And if you only know Madhur Jaffrey as the author of more than two dozen Indian and vegetarian cookbooks, you've missed her as an actress, in everything from 1960s Bolllywood movies to several films with Merchant to a recent episode of Psych.
Maandvi and Jaffrey go way back, having starred together in the 1999 film ABCD, and have been planning to make Today's Special ever since. Loosely based on Mandvi's play, it's the story of an uninspired sous chef ("where's the magic, where's the emotion, where's my boner?!," says his boss, played by 30 Rock's Dean Winters) who is forced to run his father's Indian joint in Queens. The film is expected to hit theaters in the fall.
Eater's Jason Cohen caught up with the pair at the International Association of Culinary Professionals convention in Portland.
So, how did the movie come about?
Aasif Mandvi: It came about because I wrote a one-man show about ten years ago, and then we had a sketch comedy group with a gentleman named Jonathan Bines, who is a food critic and a comedy writer. So we brought our talents together and decided to write a comedy about Indian food, which nobody had really done successfully. Madhur was involved from the very beginning — she was involved in all the meetings, and we always wanted her to play the role that she ended up playing. And then after we made some money, we made the movie.
Madhur Jaffrey: When you do an independent film, it takes a while to get it going. We were doing readings of it, trying to get people interested, trying to earn money. So it's been a long process.
Did you vet the film for authenticity?
Madhur Jaffrey: No, y'know, I wish I had. I would have had a few things to say I think! There are some green spices in there that I don't know.
Aasif Mandvi: We have some colors in there that are more cinematic than, probably, legitimate.
Madhur Jaffrey: Than real. But we had such a good time making the film.
Aasif Mandvi: I feel we finally have something that is charming, and fun, and it will make you hungry. You may not recognize all the spices, but you'll definitely want to go have Indian food after you see this movie.
One of the keys to good home Indian cooking is toasting your own spices...
Madhur Jaffrey: He doesn't do any toasting, I can tell you that!
Aasif Mandvi: I had to learn how to seem like I know how to cook. That was my culinary challenge: how to look like I know what I'm doing. When I watch real chefs I'm aways like, wow, I can't do that. I wish I could! But I can pretend like I can do that.
So can you throw a dinner party now?
Aasif Mandvi: I can throw a dinner party, sure. And have Madhur cook.