Gaggan Anand | Chef at Gaggan restaurant
“I did not choose Bangkok, it was destiny”
The culinary scene in Bangkok is changing. We interview two of its brightest stars, Gaggan Anand, chef at the best restaurant in Asia, and his pupil Garima Arora, who is now going it alone.
Text: Zoey Huang | Video: Bakery Group
ach of their dishes include five flavours: sweet, hot, savoury, sour and, most importantly, surprise. In fact, surprise has become the main ingredient on the menu at Gaggan (Bangkok), the best restaurant in Asia, and number seven on the planet, according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. The diners don’t know what they are eating until the end of the meal. They can only guess, based on a mysterious menu comprising 25 emoticons. The chef says that when they are given the actual menu they exclaim, “Shit! I ate that?”. But, they don’t complain, “because they loved it,” he laughs. This risky approach would be unthinkable in another high-end restaurant, but not in the one run by this chef. Born in Calcutta and trained at elBulli, run by Ferrán Adrià, before Gaggan donned his apron, he was the drummer in a band. Progressive rock, like his cooking.
How would you describe the experience of eating at Gaggan?
It is different from every dining experience from all over the world. We have 25 courses, and 22 are eaten by hand. In India, you eat with your hands, that is my culture. The sensuality of the eating and touching the dish: hot, cold, temperature, texture… everything becomes real. Every three months, we come up with a menu, which is 90% eaten by hand.
You define your cooking as ‘progressive Indian cuisine’. What does this concept mean?
The word progressive means to “move forward”, step by step, from something that already exists. When I started doing this, many people thought I was a fool. “This is Indian cuisine, it’s been here for thousands of years, don’t change my curry, don’t change my naan bread”. But I am a progressive person, I’m carrying this to a new level, so I talk ‘progressive Indian cuisine’. From there to what it has become, is a journey.
What did your family say when you told them you wanted to become a chef?
The first thing they said was “good choice”. They knew I was not good at studies. I hate discipline, I am a rebel. So I became a chef. Chefs are crazy guys, no? All the crazy guys become chefs so I am in the right profession.
What is your next big culinary challenge?
I am closing this restaurant. Ferran Adriá, my guru, taught me that all good things come to end. We are climbing a mountain and we are going to our peak. When we get to that peak (and I don’t say peak is an award, a peak is my food), then, I want to leave it there. The best memory. Gaggan closes june 2020, I decided it last week. I want to go to Japan and start a small restaurant, 12 seats, something very crazy. I like challenge. I don’t want to be boring in life.
Why did you choose Bangkok to open Gaggan? How do you succeed with a high cuisine restaurant in a city well-known for its street food?
I did not choose Bangkok, it was destiny. I have no plan, it just happened. I just wanted to go to Bangkok and cook and take a job and do a better life. Five hundred dollars became what it’s become today. When I arrived in this country, there was no fine dining. The problem was that with one dollar you had great food on the street. Then I started Gaggan. I was part of the evolution. Not only me, many chefs, collectively. That’s why this year we have Michelin stars, last year we had ‘50 best Restaurants Awards’ in Bangkok. Despite this, this is still the street food capital. Nobody can change that. I am part of the fine dining scene, but at night, you will see me eating on the streets. That is everyday, Gaggan is one day in your life.
Your restaurant represents Bangkok’s high cuisine scene. Can you find luxury in this city?
Bangkok is famous for its cheap luxury. Cheap massages, hotels where you pay half the price you would pay in New York. In Thailand you can get a massage for $6 and a massage with a spa for $55. What is luxury for people from West or from big cities, is an everyday thing for us. For them taking a spa will be like once in their life or once a year. I can do it every day. Once a week I go to the movies. We have some luxurious movie theatres, with beds. You have a butler, you can have champagne. This is the new face of Thailand.
Garima Arora | Chef at Gaa restaurant
“I haven’t seen such energy anywhere else in the world”
She has passed through the best kitchens in the world. Now, she is opening her own restaurant in Bangkok, in the heart of a simmering culinary scene.
Text: Zoey Huang | Video: Bakery Group
arima has just opened a restaurant in the same street as Gaggan. For her, this isn’t competition. He is “a member of the family who lives over the road,” since she spent a year in Gaggan Anand’s kitchens, learning from him. Born in Bombay, before moving to Bangkok , she trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris; Verre, run by Gordon Ramsay, Dubai; and Noma, Denmark. During that time, she learned culinary techniques from all over the world, which she now applies to 100% Thai products in her new home, Gaa.
Your restaurant Gaa has just opened. What can ‘foodies’ expect from it?
It is a reflection of many different cultures, just like Bangkok is. We serve only hand processed local products, indigenous products that exist only within Thailand. But we use techniques from all over the world to reflect the best taste possible. So I think it’s local products with eclectic flavours.
What do you think Gaa will contribute to Bangkok’s culinary scene?
What we try to do it’s we give a fresh set of eyes on what is available around us. It is looking at what’s available in Thailand with no preconceived notions, no already-existing ideas of what food should be like. Also, I think it’s important the way we choose our produce. We choose the ingredients that grow closest to the restaurant, so they are as fresh as possible. That’s the only way to guarantee good food. Our fish comes in live everyday, we don’t store anything in the restaurant in tanks or in freezers. Our first challenge is to be truly local.
What do you like the most about Bangkok?
The people. It is the people who make this city. I don’t think I have seen such energy anywhere else in the world. They are so hospitable, so full of life, so giving, so caring… Also, the city has a lot to offer. Right from a bowl of noodles at 2am to three-star French dining, you have everything. At the sixth month I was here, I fell in love with Bangkok and I did not want to leave.
How is your perfect ‘luxury day’ here in Bangkok?
I would start having brunch in one of the many 5-star hotels, maybe by the riverside. Get a nice massage, because you are in Bangkok and it doesn’t get any better than this, and end your day at a rooftop bar overlooking the city, have a few drinks and a nice dinner in a restaurant.