Food

Garima Arora’s Gaa restaurant wins a Michelin star

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Vineet Bhatia. Vikas Khanna. Gaggan Anand. The list of Indian chefs whose restaurants have received a Michelin star has only had men on it. Till now. This week, Garima Arora, former chef de partie at Copenhagen’s Noma (consistently ranked as one of the world’s best restaurants), picked up a Michelin star on behalf of her restaurant Gaa (which she opened in the Thai capital in April 2017), becoming the first Indian woman to do so.

Asked about the accolade over a phone call, Arora says, “When we launched, there was no Michelin guide here (it was only unveiled in December last year). So it was never consciously what I wanted, but of course we’re so happy.”

Bangkok calling

Arora, who came to Bangkok to work at fellow Indian Gaggan Anand’s eponymous restaurant, cites the fact that street food vendors in Asia have been awarded stars in the past when she says, “I think what [Michelin] looks for in Asia is probably a little more diverse than what they look for in Europe, but it’s difficult to pin point exactly what that is.”

But clearly, she is doing something right. In less than two years, Gaa and its creator have made a name for themselves. Arora has received recognition for combining the lessons of her ‘Ivy League’ work experience — which also includes stints at Table 9 and Gordon Ramsey, Dubai — with a sense of playful originality. Influences from Noma, such as the emphasis on foraged and fermented foods, shine through in the restaurant’s tasting menus, which include signature dishes like duck donut, unripe jackfruit with roti and pickles, and crayfish served with khakra. Her ingredients, she shares, are sourced from tribes that forage them in the northern parts of Thailand.

Garima Arora’s Gaa restaurant wins a Michelin star

The making of Gaa

Her path to Gaa — which is located in a yellow bungalow across from her former workplace in Pathum Wan — was, by her own admission, a circuitous one. Talking about her decision to become a chef, Arora says, “I think it was in the making. I had already started working as a journalist and I thought that restaurant cooking was something I would maybe want to do later in life. My dad had always told me that he would pay for whatever education I wanted to do. He’s a really fun dad like that.” She also realised that cooking is a “young person’s game”, and that “your 20s are the time when you can work that hard”. So she decided to apply to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris sooner, rather than later, graduating from the institution in 2010.

“I was working in Copenhagen when Gaggan [Anand] asked me if I would want to head his restaurant in Mumbai.” Having grown up in the city (she studied at Jai Hind College) Arora was keen to come back. However, the move did not materialise. “Six months in, when I found out that Mumbai was not going to happen, I was actually really happy. Because at that point, I was in love with Bangkok and I didn’t want to leave.”

Garima Arora’s Gaa restaurant wins a Michelin star

The cultured life

Arora’s food is a reflection of her training. “What I learned at culinary school was to think about cooking in a particular way, or think about it as an intelligent exercise,” she says. And so at Gaa, diners will find lots of fermented options on the 10- and 14-course tasting menu. “I think the reason we do this is to give a very particular experience to the diners. We attempt to make and change flavours, adding a little bit of acidity to the food, just to generally make it better.”

From fermented beef and pork to making her own fish and soy sauce, she has experimented with it all, and she cites not just Noma, but her Indian heritage as an influence. “Dosa, idli — it’s all lactic acid fermentation, and we’ve been doing it for donkey’s years, only we don’t know that it’s cool yet,” she laughs. Each tasting menu can be paired with either regular or premium wines, and both options feature the famous duck donut. “It’s definitely modern food,” says the chef, adding, “I also try to do justice to where I live today.”

Placing first

When it comes to the fact that Arora is a woman who has succeeded in an industry that often does not give the fairer sex its due, she says, “It’s really difficult to comment, because I don’t know what it’s like for male chefs. It’s a very challenging industry by itself. Being a woman has its own sets of strengths and weaknesses that you bring into a workplace. Personally, I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the world who made it a point to make me feel welcome in the kitchen.”

As to how she celebrated the news, her response gives you an insight into her workaholic attitude: “It’s business as usual. There’s nothing else to it. The announcement happened on November 14 and we will be back in the kitchen on the 15th.”

Prices for the tasting menu at Gaa start at approximately ₹4,100 (with wine pairings). Reservations can be made on gaabkk.com

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 3:51:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/garima-arora-wins-michelin-star/article25497423.ece

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