A former journalist turned chef and alum of top kitchens including Noma and Gaggan, Chef Garima Arora has been named the Best Female Chef in Asia for 2019 for her progressive Indian-Thai restaurant Gaa in Bangkok. The title bestowed by the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Group on February 28, 2019, comes just months after Gaa bagged honours in the 2019 Michelin Guide for Thailand. With the win, the 32-year-old chef became the first Indian woman to earn a Michelin star in November 2018.
Indian with Thai Influences
The concept of Gaa is not unlike Gaggan, an avant-garde restaurant in Bangkok which also serves progressive Indian cuisine with local Thai ingredients and influences. Gaggan is helmed by Indian chef Gaggan Anand and has topped Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for the last four years in a row.
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At Gaa, diners choose between a 10 and a 14-course tasting menu that changes quarterly and relies on classic Indian cooking techniques, notably, the extraction of umami from vegetables, Arora explains in a video interview. That’s the principle behind her signature dish, flame-grilled jackfruit topped with caramelized onions, served with an assortment of pickles and roti. The result? A vegetarian dish where the lack of meat goes unnoticed.
“What ignites my passion as a chef is eating something new for the very first time,” she said. “The joy one feels when they take a spoonful of something they have never tasted before, that’s the feeling I like to have and that’s the feeling I want my guest to have as well.”
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Along with being adept in the kitchen, Arora is skilled with words, expressing her culinary ethos with ease and clarity, perhaps owing to her background as a former journalist. Remaining true to her journalistic roots, she also asks thoughtful questions while cooking in order to come up with new and different dishes. Some of the questions that inspire her are answering why Indian cuisine developed the way it did and why we put things together the way we do.
Straight to the Top
For Arora, there was no toiling in small ma and pa restaurants or greasy spoons. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 2010, Arora went straight to the top, working at Noma in Copenhagen where she learned to approach cooking as a “cerebral exercise” before moving on to Gaggan.
She opened Gaa, a three-storied restaurant, across the street from Gaggan in 2017. While discussing her decision to open a restaurant in Bangkok, she described the city as the perfect backdrop for the shared connection between Indian and Thai cultures, people, language, food and mythology. “It’s so deeply connected,” notes the chef. Arora also welcomes the notion of bringing progressive Indian food to the international stage: “Indian food can be the future of modern cuisine.”
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