Food

Gaggan Anand’s retirement plan

Gaggan Anand says what he thinks and does what he wants. When he won his 50 Best Restaurants award this year, he promptly announced his intention to close his eponymous restaurant in 2020. It made the headlines and went viral. Why would the Indian chef, whose Bangkok restaurant topped Asia’s 50 Best list for three consecutive years and is now at No 7 on the World’s 50 Best ranking, not want to set up a global Gaggan empire? Especially, when many celebrity chefs are cashing in on their bestsellers. “Because I don’t want to just become a brand. I have 67 employees to motivate, I make it a point to talk to everyone who comes to dine, and still am criticised that I am not at my restaurant every day,” admits Gaggan.

Gaggan Anand’s retirement plan

There is also his love for all things Japanese and his decision to open a new restaurant with friend and collaborator, Chef Takeshi Fukuyama. At 39, his move to dodge burnout could also be influenced by mentor Ferran Adria of El Bulli; the ground-breaking Spanish chef closed shop when his Michelin 3-star restaurant in Catalonia was still enormously successful. Gaggan, who interned with him in 2010, has often named Adria (besides his own mother) as his inspiration.

1080 days to remember

With 36 months to go before he shuts his progressive Indian restaurant — about four menus a year, and 25 courses in each menu — he exhorts his team on WhatsApp to create 300 memorable dishes. The former drummer runs a tight ship of chefs from 18 countries, including Serbia, Spain and India. In their glass-walled kitchen that overlooks a private dining room, they work with the synchronised precision of musicians, but with enough back-slapping. It is back-breaking work: the tiny eggplant cookie which is Gaggan’s take on baingan ka bharta served as the fourth course, sees the vegetable mashed and charred in the tandoor, before being freeze-dried and compressed into cookies, then sandwiched with onion chutney. Coriander Nest and Green Apple involves several hours of shaving both coriander root and apple. Each course is a work of art.

Gaggan Anand’s retirement plan

Alternative reality

When I visit, the wait staff announces each course with a flourish — one has mustard wrapped sea bass cooked in cedar wood and charred on the table (Gaggan’s take on the Bengali fish paturi); another is a spicy Chettinad quail served in a cage. It is a heady journey, where culinary and performance art unite, and where the menu (only emoji-filled, the key to what you have eaten comes after you have dined) throws up surprises like goat brain in a waffle or scallop curry cooked and broken down to a cold form. There is beetroot meringue with gooseberry and blue cheese and also mushroom that sits pretty like a bonsai and mango wasabi ice cream with sea urchin. The German couple seated at the next table is full of praise, and I have to agree with them, Gaggan’s wizardry with molecular gastronomy, authentic Indian flavours and the Japanese pursuit of perfection makes him deserving of his many awards. The first Michelin guide in Bangkok is due in December, and not surprisingly, he will earn a spot there too.

Gaggan Anand’s retirement plan

Reinvention is key

Gaggan is dismissive of the adulation. “What you are eating will be stale in five days, when I launch my new menu,” he pronounces. Just back from a working holiday in Switzerland and Rome, he is in his trademark black jacket, with its strip of blue. He is bleary-eyed behind his Gentle Monster frames, but has his hair in a Samurai topknot and is ready to brainstorm with his team. The stories about 500 booking requests a day and the three-month waiting list at Gaggan are true, he confirms, which is why he now has a five-person team to handle reservations. Yet, social media is also abuzz over his new projects: Gaa, Raa, Sol, GohGan and a second branch of Meatlicious.

Gaggan Anand’s retirement plan

Made in Bangkok

The last, a steakhouse in partnership with his wife, is a runaway hit. On his Instagram account, there is a bubbling pan of yellow: fish curry at Meatlicious, sold out days in advance, with 12,000 ‘likes and counting. Suhring, another investment, and headed by German twins, Thomas and Mathiass Suhring, has also won its share of awards. The only dark cloud, it appears, is Gaa, a brand new project helmed by his former sous chef, Garima Arora. Initially supposed to be a curry house, Gaggan says it is now “Thai, confusion and neo-Nordic”. Clearly, things have soured between the two, and he adds, “Every dish at Gaa was a Noma copy. I told them that and it was not taken well. I put my money and name on new talent, but then they think they are rebels.”

The other side
  • Gaggan wears Onitsuka Tiger shoes, and has 97 pairs already; Zita eyewear; and clothes by Yohji Yamamoto, Sacai, Junya Watanabe and Commes des Garcons.
  • The fan of progressive rock says ‘Gimme Shelter’ (The Rolling Stones) is his current anthem, then generously offers to buy tickets to a Foo Fighters concert in Bangkok later this month.
  • His T-shirt, ‘Hug me I smell like curry’ has achieved cult status. Coming up: ‘Don’t fork with my curry.’
  • He prefers to post selfies with the global community of chefs, rather than the many celebrities who stream into his restaurant, and enjoys cooking for sushi and ramen masters.
  • His year-old daughter Tara has taught him to be more approachable, as “many of my chefs are nervous in my presence”. She has inspired a children’s menu at Gaggan, to be launched in August.
  • Pop ups include one in Tokyo this week, followed by Singapore and Switzerland. London and New York might have them early next year. And India? “That’s always a surprise.”

Rockstar chefs from his team will be heading projects such as Wet, a Japanese gastropub, and Sol, a dessert address. With his Serbian sommelier Vladimir Kojic calling the shots, Wet will have at least “30,000 bottles of wine and fried chicken”. Yakitori, or Japanese-style grilled skewered chicken, to be specific. A collaboration with Mihara tofu ten, from Fukuoka, will see a Japanese fine-dining restaurant, where tofu is the subject. These projects will bring him the funds to experiment with GohGan, his project with long-time friend Fukuyama (of La Maison de la Nature Goh). Gaggan will reopen in a different format, as Raa, to be run by his current staff. “Everybody on the team gets an opportunity. I give them my money, fame, and infrastructure. But they are warned that with fame comes criticism,” he concludes.

The new menu, 25 courses, is 5,000 baht ++, 2 1/2 hours. 6 pm to 12 am. Reservations on the website.


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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 7:23:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/gaggan-on-life-after-gaggan/article18827335.ece

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