Behind the creative menus made with technology, innovation and boundless eating cultures by Indian Chef Gaggan Anand, two-time winner of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants
For foodies, Thailand is considered heaven because of an abundance of delicious eats ranging from Michelin eateries to street food. High quality international food, be it Chinese, Japanese or Italian, are easy to find. A world-class Indian restaurant can also be found in Bangkok, namely Eat at Gaggan, which serves progressive cuisine by Chef Gaggan Anand.
Eat at Gaggan first opened its doors in 2009 in Soi Langsuan in a two-storey, white wooden house— a delicate contrast to the restaurant’s more aggressive font which looks like it dropped from a 70s metal rock band album.
As we pop by to visit the restaurant, Chef Gaggan is busy with building renovations. He wants additional space for his ‘lab’, a kitchen space which will be used to experiment with new ideas and is packed with technological gizmos—from the 3D printer which can print food in many different shapes; a freeze dryer with a price tag of six digits or the nitrogen equipment which is a must-have for all eateries serving molecular gastronomy.
Although his experimental dishes uses scientific approaches like molecular cuisine, Gaggan calls his creations “progressive cuisine.” He has previously trained with legendary chef Ferran Adria at the restaurant El Bulli in Spain, before opening his own place in Bangkok.
At first, Gaggan had traveled to Thailand with the goal to intern at a restaurant for a short period of time, but decided to plant his flag here for the reason that Thailand has everything: fresh quality produce, as well as people who are open to new things.
Gaggan was born and raised in India, but foresaw that getting his fellow countrymen to accept the idea of new, strange Indian food can be a tough battle. This may stem from an eating culture that dates back thousands of years, with traditionalists difficult to open up to new things.
The road to becoming Asia’s top chef is not strewn with roses and Gaggan recalls the hardships he went through in 2007. “I lived off my credit card then and had to eat Mama every day. I can make over 100 Mama menus and none of them are the same.” As bad luck would have it, he would also have to deal with a political crisis when Bangkok was packed with mobs while opening his new restaurant. “I thought it was the end of it and was preparing to look for another job.” But ultimately, his business made it out successfully.
Gaggan relies on marketing through word of mouth. It started out with inviting target customers to come try out his Indian food with a twist. From a small circle, news moved to a wider public, to the very point that Indians fly in to come try out the best “Indian food” in Bangkok. Upon receiving the best restaurant award from Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2015, it became a turning point which put his restaurant on the world’s map. “The vision behind Eat at Gaggan is to make food that’s progressive. Food, especially in Asia and India, is very ancient and hard to touch. Whenever we get into progressive food, it goes into avant-garde grounds, which is to experiment. We try to play with memories, with people’s perception of food and with boxes—where we like to be outside of the box,” Gaggan says from the Chef’s Table room, which is divided from the kitchen by a large glass window, where both male and female chefs from around the world scurry to prepare tonight’s dishes.
“Creating new menus or whatever new concepts starts from deconstructing everything and putting it back together again,” Gaggan explains of his creative process. The menu currently prepared is the newest one, as Gaggan usually changes his menu every 3 months. This time, he’s just gotten back from Japan and has brought back ingredients to be mixed with Indian food. There are weird (but delicious) menus such as Papadrum Uni—sea urchin gonads served on Indian crackers with avocado and strawberry chutney for a tangy taste. There’s also a salad flavored with tea made from tomatoes, where Gaggan adapted tea-making techniques to be used in his salad. For this we have to thank his tea-planting friends in Japan whom taught him the age-old spirit of making tea traditionally.
A lot of menus are clearly inspired from Japan, possibly because of his new friendship with Chef Takeshi Fukuyama from La Maison de la Nature Goh, a restaurant in Fukuoka. The pair have gotten on great and have even had a cooking battle recently.
For Gaggan, food is all about creativity and innovation. “I believe that innovation is the key to being a leader and not a follower. To be a leader, you must be able to create new things.”
This innovative and creative chef has never stopped creating new things and yet again, Eat at Gaggan has received first prize at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for the second year. It all looks like it’s going splendid but as we are enjoying our sake ice-cream, Gaggan announces that he is going to close his restaurant in 2020. Surely, someone as creative and high-energy as him is not thinking about retirement anytime soon. He’s already got a surprise project up his sleeves so stay tuned for what’s up next!