By Bhavana Akella
Ranked as Asia’s best restaurant for three years in a row for his eponymous “Gaggan” in Bangkok, Kolkata-born Chef Gaggan Anand is all about taking Indian food to the world beyond its stereotyped curry prism. He’s on a mission to prove to the world that the concept of curry doesn’t exist in Indian cuisine.
“I want to show the world that there’s no such thing as a curry. There’s only a curry leaf that gives the taste. Curry is a very British idea. With just a curry leaf oil, I can make anything taste like curry,” the award-winning Anand said in a conversation at the Taj West End.
The owner and executive chef of the Bangkok restaurant, which has won the top spot in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, ranked by theworlds50best.com, for three consecutive years since 2015, was on a four-city tour to present his food through pop-ups at Taj Hotels in the country, from where he had started his culinary career.
Anand’s food is all about elevating humble Indian street-food-inspired-dishes through innovation and plating in a fine-dining fashion — from chocolate paani puri to keema pav.
And he’s managed to do so by eliminating knives and forks and letting global diners eat Indian food the way it’s traditionally eaten — using the hands. Thereby, he managed to place Indian food on the world map in a much larger way.
Served through 25 courses, he presents the tasting menu through emojis, eliminating the long descriptions of dishes that usually feature on a restaurant menu. And it’s certainly not an easy task to guess what’s going to be served by reading the ideograms.
“My idea is to bring all of people’s senses to life. I use food to seduce people and agitate their minds by surprising them without any pretensions. Everybody would have made jalebis into various sweet versions but no one would have thought of a savoury version,” an exuberant Anand explained.
“I have created my own philosophy of food, which is what sets me apart and has got me where I am now,” said Anand, whose restaurant is also the only Indian eatery to grab a spot among the World’s top 10 restaurants, ranked by theworlds50best.com.
Unlike many other kitchens across the world, Anand’s is always blaring out rock music and most often he’s seen in his favourite band’s T-shirt when he’s out of the kitchen. Music is one of the key elements of his food-making process.
He even created a dish named “Lick it up”, inspired by the American rock band “Kiss”, which diners need to lick off the plate, and treats his service like a concert, filled with surprises and theatrics.
And for constant renovation of his food, Anand has dedicated a total of six teams for research and development in his “food laboratory”.
As the Netflix Emmy-nominated “Chef’s Table” show describes in an episode on his restaurant, “his kitchen is a virtual United Nations with people from across the world working in it”.
Anand had started off his restaurant in 2010 majorly using the molecular gastronomy principles, wherein ingredients undergo physical and chemical transformations, and later adopted a “minimalist” approach to food, he shared.
“Most often, Indian chefs give glory to quinoa, zucchini and goji berries while ignoring our own ingredients like drumsticks and colocasia root. We should create from our ingredients rather than seeking to the West for ideas,” Anand asserted.
“So, my food is all about honesty in using seasonal produce, while keeping the plate as minimalist as possible. Only the elements that belong on the plate stay on it”.
This simplistic approach is perhaps what late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam loved the most about Anand’s food. “I used to travel along with Kalam sir when he was the President. He used to eat the rice and rasam I used to make for him at 6 a.m. each morning,” the chef reminisced.
But restaurants come with an expiry date, Anand believes. “Gaggan will close by 2020. It’s the end of an era. For a decade I cooked at Gaggan, and now I want something else.”
The celebrated chef will be heading to Japan’s Fukuoka city in 2021 to do a 10-seater restaurant.
“It’ll be an inaccessible place. I really want to control the crowd and reduce the volume. Now the volume is too high and I want to do food that pleases my soul now,” he said.
With the Michelin announcing the launch of their prestigious Michelin Guide in Bangkok by the end of 2017, Anand said if he gets three Michelin stars, he would claim the fame of being the first such Indian to be so recognised.
“Even if I don’t get it, I don’t have much to lose; they’ll have to answer to the people who have loved my food,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.
“I still haven’t given my Indian passport away though. I’ll always remain very much Indian at heart, even though nobody in Kolkata really knows me and that I’ve made the region and its food so famous,” Anand concluded.