Last year was a good year for Kolkata native Gaggan Anand. His restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand has been ranked number 10 at the inaugural edition of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list 2013 and 66 in the annual list of Top 100 Restaurants in the World.
Gaggan opened in 2010 and everyone who has eaten there cannot help but rave about the molecular reinterpretation of classic Indian dishes. Anand, the chef, is just 35. His food has been called everything from modern Indian to molecular Indian to progressive Indian. Anand, however, prefers calling it “progressive, avant-garde Indian food”. Why Indian food? “I am from India and it’s what I do best,” he says, adding, “Although we definitely use a lot of Western ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and other meats and transform them.”
Gaggan is set in a restored wooden house in Soi Lang Suan and boasts of a completely white decor. Gaggan’s menu changes with the season. The best way to experience the food is the 10-course testing menu (starting at 1,600 baht). “The present menu has a reconstructed dhokla, the Willie Wonka & the Foie Gras Factory, gol gappa and the leaf of gajar ka halwa with hot mousse of which I am the most proud,” says Anand.
“The technique here is modernisation. It is cooking with the power of knowledge, making sure a traditional recipe benefits from it,” he says. For example: the papdi chaat at Gaggan has a yoghurt sphere because the papdi in the traditional recipe gets soggy very fast. At Gaggan, the crispiness remains till the end of the dish.
Anand is the second Asian and first Indian to enter Ferran Adria’s culinary research laboratory, El Bulli. It’s where he “attained nirvana about cooking modern gastronomy and learned that the philosophy was more important than the recipes.” It was at El Bulli that he learned a de-constructive approach to cooking. Adria had experimented with Indian food in 2005 but didn’t continue with it. “It was just like how others in Western countries thought Indian food was tandoori naan and samosas. I taught them how to use spices and introduced them to kala namak,” laughs Anand.
His prowess in the kitchen has earned him the sobriquet ‘Captain Kirk of cuisine’ by Time magazine. He has also been called the ‘rebel cook’. “We dared to do what no one else has ever tried. People thought we were like the Titanic, destined to sink even if in a glorious way. Today we have changed the culinary landscape of Thailand in many ways,” he says.
The word fusion shouldn’t be uttered in Anand’s presence, he detests it. “We do not do fusion-confusion food. Our oysters with Bengali mustard ice cream is sheer innovation, no one has ever done that globally. We have a lab dedicated to innovating recipes. The machines range from a rotary evaporator to liquid nitrogen pumps, dehydrators, freeze dryers, thermostat baths, vacuum cookers and a tandoor (in which they use smokeless coconut husk charcoal). “We buy them from Spain where it all started, maybe I am partial to the country,” he says.
It has been over a decade since Anand stepped into the kitchen and allowed food to rule his life and his family has now recognised his gift with food. “They didn’t expect anyone in the family to choose cooking as a career,” he says.
Anand makes frequent trips to India to taste the street food (to then go back and deconstruct) and research Indian food. “My travel pack has a big pouch of food-related medicines as I eat everything from everywhere,” he says. The celebrated chef’s trips to India are always surrounded by speculation about when the country will finally get its own restaurant dedicated to progressive, Indian food. “If I open another restaurant, it won’t be ‘Gaggan’ at all but simpler, easier… food for the common man. But I also can’t rule out that we won’t open in India, because that’s the future, and where and how that will happen, I still don’t have a clue,” he says.
Anand believes that restaurants in India that use molecular techniques while cooking “make a mess of it… there is no taste in it, just technique”. “A restaurant like Gaggan would work in India only if it all about comfort food,” he concludes.
Which are some of the restaurants that you love visiting?
Mugaritz, el cellar can Roca, Osteria Francescana, Arzak, and Narisawa, Tickets, Fat Duck.
Who are some of the Indian chefs you like?
Manish Mehrotra, who is also a rebel like me. The rest of them whom I know want to be TV stars and ribbon-cutting chefs.
Who are the chefs you would like to work with?
Any moms and grandmas in their secret home kitchens. That should be fun as I don’t know what secrets I will find in these kitchens.
Who is the one person you would like to cook for?
Aamir Khan. I am such a fan.
Have you ever thought of entering a cooking competition/reality show?
NO! Cooking and innovation has no time boundaries.
Any plans of writing a book?
Yes, a book when I am more famous (so I won’t have to force people to buy it). Using an iPhone helps as I write whatever comes to my mind in the notes and that eventually becomes future recipes/menu.
Which is the one dish you can cook/eat all the time, any time?
Dal and chawal… and the best way is to eat with achaar and your hands.
Which is one traditional Indian dish you haven’t reinvented yet?
Naan. Nothing can change the way it is. At Gaggan, we make it really light and crisp and without eggs.
What is your response to people who consider molecular gastronomy to be pretentious and too expensive?
Ignore the ignorance. It’s something Thailand taught me over the years.