Few things are as coveted among globe-trotting food lovers as a seat at the restaurant Gaggan, a “progressive Indian” temple of gastronomy that has hit the top spot on San Pellegrino’s “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” list for three years in a row, and is now a newly minted two Michelin star establishment. We have a quick chat with the man at the helm.
What are your thoughts on the Thailand Michelin Guide?
A guide like this will be great for those who did not get the right fame, the right acknowledgement or the right pat on the back for the hard work they put into their restaurants. It’s a great opportunity for those people.
I always believe in positivity and I always stand by my people, because I believe that no guide or no award is bigger than the restaurant.
How would you describe yourself as a chef?
I am difficult. I challenge people. People are mostly thinking of mediocre things in life. I cannot because I am running in a race to be something that is not possible. ‘An Indian chef on top of the world? How is that possible? How can that dream come from an Asian chef? How could that dream come from a guy who has never tasted caviar until he went on a first-class flight? A guy who has never tasted success and then suddenly he’s in luxury?’ When I eat in first class, my mind is still on my fries, my chips, my ice cream [laughs]. That’s why I love it when they have ice cream on board flights.
You’ve said you’re going to leave Bangkok in 2020. Why would you leave now?
It’s very simple. I think I’m reaching my peak. 2018 and ’19 will be my peak years and I think 2018 is when we will really start pushing to our maximum potential – irrelevant to the awards and to the fame; completely relevant to the food and the cuisine that we put out. 2018 and 2019 will be my best years of food. I want to shut it right after that. You leave at your peak.
What will you do?
I will not quit cooking. What I will do is I will take a break for one year. Then on to Japan and Fukuoka, where I will start cooking with a chef called Goh [Chef Takeshi Fukuyama of Japanese restaurant La Maison de la Nature Goh]. Together we will create something that is an experience of a lifetime.
What is the concept behind this restaurant?
I cannot reveal many things, but some of the ideas that we have are that it will be a 10-seater restaurant, open for one month and then closed for the next month for creative planning. What will happen there also is that we will create a new idea about cuisine – two chefs from two different parts of the world creating a new philosophy. My idea is to create a food theatre. Imagine something like a movie called Murder On The Orient Express. So the roles will be given out to every customer and they will play that role. You create a menu according to that, you create something super-planned, super-fun and super-suspicious.
Super-suspicious in what way?
It’s about mystery, it’s about surprise – the things that I’ve done with food and what I will do with food like a theatrical performance. This is my initial plan, so let’s see. It’s not easy. But I want to work with people in the film industry and put them inside the project because this is going to be something that people will be like, ‘Wow, I want to experience that once in my life’.
What kind of restaurants are like that?
What other restaurants have redefined food or changed the course of food history?
A lot. Of course El Bulli, Noma, Massimo Bottura, Thomas Keller, Raymond Blanc… every five years a new chef tries to change the idea of cooking and the idea of eating. I’ve watched these changes all around so I want to be part of that change.
And will Indian food be able to make such a change?
Indian food was never on the map. Suddenly, there’s a boxing tournament of cuisine. There used to be only French, Italian, American, Japanese, and now the ring has gotten big enough to have Indian, Peruvian, Mexican elevated to fine dining.
India gave everything east to west, and Mexico gave everything west to east; both of these cuisines have been very under-represented on the world stage. The best breakfast of my life was eating tortilla, salsa, and cactus, in a cactus field.
And this is exactly what India is. If you go to India and you eat in a temple, they give you Indian bread in the hand, and you eat with the hand. Thousands of people are eating and there are at least 3-400 people in the kitchen. A lentil dish that has been cooked over a fire from donations of lentils of different quality and quantity. You can’t make that at home because you can’t replicate those donations, and that atmosphere and 200 people mixing their recipes together. The emotion of eating is incredible. And that’s why my favourite thing in the world that I do is experience street food.
What has changed most since Gaggan first hit the “Asia’s 50 best” list?
I’m learning how to express myself. And now I understand the power I have; the seduction of talking about what I want to believe in. When you come to my restaurant, don’t judge me, just enjoy the meal.
Why do you say that?
Because I want people to come for my food, not for the awards. And I need to give space to others. I’m like a big fat cork over a champagne bottle that’s keeping all the pressure inside.
– TEXT BY CHAWADEE NUALKHAIR
PHOTOS: BRENT LEWIN (CHEF GAGGAN ANAND), GAGGAN (FOOD IMAGES)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.