Gaggan in Bangkok has recently been named Asia’s number one restaurant at the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. I had met Gaggan Anand in New Delhi last year, when he held his pop-up at ITC Maurya. At that time his restaurant was # 3 in Asia. I knew it was only a matter of time before he secured the number one position. Gaggan also features at #10 in the list of world’s 100 best restaurants. Here is my article which I had written about him and his cuisine.
Progressive Indian Cuisine, molecular gastronomy, deconstructive cooking, call it what you will. The fact remains that when you pop the alluring little bite size portions of Chef Gaggan Anand’s innovative creations in your mouth, there is a sensational explosion of flavours, so tantalizing and so seductively teasing, that one can hardly wait for the next course to arrive. You wonder if those small portions will be enough to fill you up, but believe me they are, especially when there are 11 courses to follow. There is enough accompanying drama at the table, as many of the dishes are prepared right in front of you, what with foam and bubbles rising, fumes bellowing from liquid nitrogen dispensers, and Gaggan Anand engaging his customers with his witty and often irreverent comments like “ My food is arrogant not me”. He calls himself a better entertainer than a cook.
What this pony tail sporting young chef with the persona of rock star has done by applying scientific techniques to his food, is that he has decoded Indian cooking and in the process created a fantasy using his imagination, a fantasy which appeals to all the five senses. By getting the flavours spot on with his interpretation of Indian Cuisine, he has rightfully earned his restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok, a place in the top twenty restaurants of the world (No 3 in Asia and No 17 in the world), (now at No 1 in Asia & No 10 in the world). It is the only restaurant serving Indian Cuisine to feature this high in the revered list. He gets his inspiration from the street foods of India which according to him is where the real taste lies, spending months in his lab trying to perfect the product, and though the form may be avant garde, (his interpretation of the dhokla, pani puri ,aloo bhaja , keema pav) there is no compromise on the authentic flavours. The lessons which he learnt in the labs of El Bulli, as a protégé of Ferran Adria, who is considered the father of scientific cooking, hold Chef Gaggan in good stead and he constantly emphasises the importance of research and emotions in his style of cooking where there is interplay of texture, flavour and visual presentation, along with a fair amount of drama.
I got a chance to interact with Gaggan Anand, world’s most celebrated Indian chef, and his team, at his first ever pop-up at the ITC Maurya, organised by culinary consultants Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye of Cellar Door Kitchen ably assisted by Pareina Thapar of VTY. What stood out for me was his democratic style of functioning where each team member has a say on how a particular dish should be cooked and served, which makes Chef Gaggan “primus inter pares” or first among equals rather than a boss. The culinary team which is accompanying him to India has two Spaniards, Sergi Martinez who helps with R&D and a brilliant mixologist Ignacio who is affectionately called Nacho. There is the sober and upright French sommelier from Bordeaux, Thibaud, who Gaggan calls his Napoleon and two extremely hard working Thai nationals, Kanta and Nattawat. The only Indian member is Aditya Jha. Gaggan had promised to take them to show Taj Mahal at Agra, but such was the punishing schedule with the 3 dinners, a cooking demo and one lunch held in Delhi that all they could manage was take two hours off to see India Gate, Rashtrpati Bhawan , Rajghat and eat at the Andhra Bhawan canteen .
At the cooking demo held on 5th of Sept 2014, I got a chance to watch Chef Gaggan Anand create some of his signature dishes like the Alchemist Cake, a deconstructed dhokla with coriander chutney foam and coconut ice-cream, a dish which took him nearly two years to perfect. It was fascinating to witness the Spanish culinary technique of Spherification being used to make Dahi chaat with the help of alginate and calcium chloride. He does with yogurt what Ferran does with olive juice. Mini portable frozen teppanyaki counters were used to make a dish called Made in Japan which was matcha tea cake ice-cream sandwich and fresh wasabi. Another dish called Poor Man’s Porridge, jasmine rice ice-cream, pistachio gel, almond and flower glass was served when rose room freshener was sprayed in the room emphasising the importance of eating with the nose. Everyone present was spell bound by the techniques being displayed and the dishes being created, which were packed with outstanding flavours.
I was one of the lucky few to be invited for lunch on the 7th of September 2014, where I got a chance to taste the dishes which Chef Gaggan had demonstrated at the demo along with some others like Down to Earth, a soup with asparagus, morels, mushrooms, artichokes with the famed 62 degree egg yolk, Indian foie gras or bheja mousse served in between two onion water baguettes, a real winner and arguably the dish of the day, Khichdi which is a mushroom risotto served with fresh truffle. It was an experience of a lifetime and as Gaggan himself admits that his food is something that one needs to try out once or maybe twice as it is unique and is all about exposing people to new sensations. There is no a la carte menu at his restaurant in Bangkok which has just three 15 to 22 course tasting menus which change every two months. He is candid enough to admit that his restaurant does not make money as he reinvests the profits back in the kitchen lab. However it does win awards.
According to Chef Gaggan Anand his restaurant still has to peak and once it does in a couple of years he will shut shop and devote his time to writing a book and doing shows because that is where the real money is. He might even move to Japan a place where he has never had a bad meal. But that is Gaggan Anand for you. There is always an element of surprise both about him and his food.
By Lavina Kharkwal