We talk Indian influences and the pressures faced by female chefs today.
Following tenures at Copenhagen’s Noma and Bangkok's Gaggan, chef Garima Arora launched Gaa back in early 2017. By November 2018, her high-wire techniques and inventive trans-Asian flavors had gained a Michelin star. Last week, her winning streak continued as she was awarded the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef 2019 by Asia's 50 Best. We spoke to her about her influences and the challenges of accepting an award that has long been a subject of controversy.
How does it feel to be named Asia’s best female chef, especially fresh from gaining your first Michelin star?
It’s great to get recognition by my peers. We are really thrilled that 18 months into opening we have got so much love from everybody. It makes me really happy.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing female chefs today?
I think the biggest challenge is the amount of pressure we face from our own choices. Take this award for example, so many people were against me accepting it, while others wanted me to take it—so whatever you choose, you do something wrong. As women, there’s pressure to show that we are progressive and support other women. The best way to look at it, I believe, is to stop apologizing for our choices. I don’t think I owe anybody an explanation as to why I accepted the award.
You’re the first Indian woman to receive a Michelin star. How do you hope it will impact other female Indian chefs?
India hasn’t really been seen as a serious gastronomic destination other than just for comfort food. I hope that changes—I’m really passionate about how Indian cuisine can offer the resources to make a completely modern menu. You sit and eat at Gaa, and it’s not Indian, but I do use Indian techniques—I hope with all this success we are gaining that people will recognize that these techniques can be used to create something so relevant to today.
How important is it for you to incorporate Indian flavors and techniques in your dishes?
Techniques always, I don’t go for flavors as much. The food is always technique-driven.
You studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Where else did you learn your cooking skills?
My time at Noma probably changed me most, not only as a cook but as a person. I learned how to think about my job more than just do it and the whole approach to cooking that I took away still resonates at Gaa. I’m so proud of that.
How has your time at Noma influenced your dishes at Gaa?
Some might think we have Noma-inspired dishes or styles. The truth is, you can’t take recipes away from a restaurant like Noma, it’s impossible. I think what a restaurant like Noma teaches you is attitude—it’s a way to be, a way to live your life and your career, so yes in that sense, you can compare us to Noma.
What is your earliest food memory?
My earliest and most fond memory is of cooking with my father when I was young. I remember the first time he made risotto and I couldn’t eat it. I also remember him making a tarte tatin with bananas and I was just amazed, he would tell me it was magic. I can still remember the first time he made sweet corn soup and I was so impressed by the texture.
Who else has been influential in your journey to becoming a chef?
After Rene [Redzepi], I would say it was my father. If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve never gotten into food the way I have.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Bangkok?
There are so many...I love Khua Kling Pak Sod. I recently discovered Bangkok Bold and I really enjoyed it. The Broccoli Burger at Broccoli Revolution is delicious and definitely Holey Bakery for the Sunshine Sandwich.
Do you have any future plans or projects coming up?
Not at the moment. My main focus is making sure everything is running smoothly at Gaa, the team is getting so much stronger. The next challenge is for them to take over when I’m not around and to give them the same experiences that I’ve had.
Visit Gaa at 68/4, 68/5 Lang Suan Rd., 091-419-2424