Chef Gaggan Anand is still only 35, but his progressive Indian restaurant Gaggan just ranked 3rd in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The Kolkata-born chef tells BK about his love of music, his passion for cooking and his god-like status in India.
My home town of Kolkata is a city of art. It’s called the city of joy. It was a lot of fun growing up there, people are always looking for the intellectual, the inspirational. It’s why three Noble Prize winners come from Kolkata.
 
You don’t think about money when creating art. Passion doesn’t calculate costs. With passion you can serve something on a banana leaf, you don’t need gold plates.
 
Music helps me be at peace, it is my escape. I used to play a lot of rock n’ roll when I was younger, but it wasn’t a good career choice. My family had financial problems so I decided cooking was a better option. Now I can afford to enjoy music; I fly to see five or six concerts a year. 
 
Food was a big deal in my family. Everything revolved around food and any social event was focused on the food. 
 
I had to get a loan from my father and my family to go to catering college. Those three years were very tough. 
 
My teacher called me a stone, a stone they would polish into a diamond.
 
I realized I didn’t want to work in a box when I went to work at the Taj Hotel group. Hotels have very strict guidelines, very strict rules, but I am not a follower. 
 
I always wanted to be where I am today. I had to go do what I wanted to do; I had to follow my dream, so I gave everything up and came to Bangkok. 
 
Indian food had a really low perception here. People thought it was only good for drunk people and for tailors’ lunches. There was no Indian fine dining; it was in the same position as Thai food.
 
I got drunk, that’s how Gaggan started. I called my friend late one night and he told me that I needed my own restaurant and that I should contact El Bulli [at the time the number one restaurant in the world] to go and learn from them.
 
I called El Bulli 15 times before I managed to get hold of someone who could speak English. I had to do a whole presentation. The day they accepted me, I quit my job at Lebua Hotel. 
 
I wanted to understand what they were doing, how they thought, not just how they did something. 
 
Cooking is a science, but five years ago not many chefs understood that. Ferran Adria, head of El Bulli understood the science of cooking. Now every restaurant in the top 20 uses these techniques. 
 
If cooking is a religion, El Bulli is the Vatican. Every change in cooking in the next few years will come from Spain.
 
I try to be honest with my cuisine. What I make is based on my tongue’s memories. I cook what I like; I don’t question other people’s thoughts or style. 
 
Chefs cooking soul food are taking the simple path, but they’ll always exist. We need these places, though. They are essential to the culinary scene of any city. 
 
Fifty percent of my menu is from my childhood. I know how to cook a naan, but I want my cooking to be more progressive, more avante garde. 
 
My travels, my food memories inspire me. I travel to India six to eight times a year. I go to different regions. It revives my memories; it makes sure I don’t forget my country. I have to go back to the source.
 
I deconstruct the recipe, then reconstruct it, but I don’t dilute my memories. I’ll never do a frozen curry.
 
Winning awards won’t change my cooking, but it did change how people perceived me. When only one person says you’re good, no one listens. 
 
I don’t want to be a celebrity chef. I refuse TV shows, I don’t go to red carpet events. I don’t want to be seen as a blabbermouth and I don’t want to lose time that could be spent in the restaurant.
 
I’ve not reached my peak. I’ve been doing this for three years; every restaurant reaches its peak in six years. 
 
I am god of food in India. Restaurants in India are now copying my dishes. I don’t care, I am just happy to have inspired someone. It motivates me.
 
This is my temple, this is my team. I won’t do another Gaggan. I don’t want to devalue the brand. If I do something else, it will be another vision.
 
You have to burn your arms for six years to be a chef. The biggest problem in Bangkok is people using their father’s money to open restaurants. They aren’t prepared to work for it.
 
People tell me they want to be chefs to f**k the best looking women. That’s not why you become a chef. If you want to do that, become a porn star. To be a chef you have to be focused.
 
People prepared to challenge perceptions have changed Bangkok’s dining scene. There were a group of chefs prepared to try and make a change in how people ate. I was just one part of the movement.  
 
I challenge any Thai chef to cook as well as David Thompson. I like his balls. He dared to defy people with his restaurant. Thai chefs had never shown that passion about their cuisine.
 
No one is allowed to scream in my kitchen, you can’t be creative in a rough environment. You can only tap into your passion when you’re happy.
 
I switch off when someone is rude or arrogant to me. I’ve thrown so many people out, I’ve turned people away. I don’t care who you are. 
 
When I’m satisfied, I’ll be finished. I’m happier now but I am still not satisfied. Even perfection can be improved.