Going Gaa Gaa
Executive Chef Garima Arora has become the first Indian woman chef to have a restaurant awarded with a Michelin Star for her Restaurant Gaa in Bangkok.
From being a journalist by profession to switching to cooking by passion, Garima Arora has come a long way. And with her Bangkok Restaurant Gaa having recently been awarded its first Michelin star by the Michelin Guide Thailand, it seems the start of all things good for this affable 32 year old.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Garima studied at Jai Hind College from where she graduated with a degree in Mass Media. Then she stared work as a journalist covering pharmaceuticals for a while, but always felt that something was not right. “Cooking was something I was always interested in, given that my father has always been very passionate about it, and I have watched him whip up culinary creations ever since I was a child.” In fact it was her father who was the person who attracted you towards food when she decided to become a chef. “He is definitely my biggest influence when it comes to all things culinary. He would travel a lot and when he came home, he would recreate the dishes he had sampled or experiment with new combinations. After graduating from college and before I started my job in journalism, I took a trip to Singapore. When I returned, I gathered family and cooked them a big hotpot. It was such a fun evening and I realized then that what I really wanted to do was talk to people through the medium of food. I still joined my job at the time but six months in, I knew it was time to make the switch. I joined Le Cordon Bleu Paris shortly after.”
Over the last decade, Garima has worked with several world-renowned chefs including Gordon Ramsay in 2011 and René Redzepi from 2013 to 2015. In the fall of 2015 she moved to Bangkok and joined the Gaggan restaurant group. Having worked with some of the best names in the industry definitely helped Garima to sharpen her culinary skills too. “I have been very lucky to work with some of the most important names in the industry. Under René, I learnt how to think of food intellectually, and not just as a physical task. My takeaway from my time with him was that food should be meaningful. My experience with Gordon Ramsay is what I describe as the best first job I could have asked for. There, I learned to leave my ego at the door and really become a team player. At Gaggan’s, I was taught the beauty of Asian hospitality, given how it really is the best service in the world, in my opinion.” Incidentally it was probably a case of serendipity as Garima was supposed to head Gaggan’s Mumbai restaurant when it opened but the deal unfortunately fell through. However the same owners decided to go ahead and open a restaurant in Bangkok instead with her at the helm and Restaurant Gaa launched in April 2017. “At Gaa, we offer 2 menus; a 10-course and 14-course menu. Through this, we strive to find a connection between India, where I am from and Thailand. There are so many dishes on the menu that stand out, but there are two that come to mind here. The first is our Corn dish which was also the first dish to make its way to the Gaa menu when we opened. It is almost our signature right now, as a result. This dish is inspired by the Mumbai bhutta, where we take young corns (not to be confused with baby corns), cook them on the grill and season with the same spice rub we have on the street of Mumbai. On our menu, these corns are paired with a corn milk. The idea here is to elevate that warm fuzzy feeling of eating bhutta during the monsoon in Mumbai to a fine dining experience. Another one that really deserves special mention is our jackfruit dish. We grill unripe jackfruit until it is tender and juicy (much like meat). It is then served with roti, which has ripe jackfruit in it. This dish not only combines techniques and flavours, but also cultures.”
Naturally Garima is clear that using local flavours is something that is very important as she believes it keeps her food much more authentic and there is certainly nothing better than using seasonal and local produce from a quality perspective. And with her Indian background she enjoys including elements of India into the food at Gaa. “The menu is a great example of how well Thai and Indian culinary cultures can come together. I think what is most surprising about the food at Gaa is how Indian and Thai food are more alike than one would imagine.” The Michelin Star she acknowledges is an incredible honour and one that she is delighted to see Restaurant Gaa receive. “Gaa is a reflection of who I currently am, and this accolade just confirms that my team and I are on the right path, as we offer diners the end-to-end sensory experience that Gaa provides. My success is not possible without my team they are like family to me, and everyone brings a diverse skill set to the table, which makes us a cohesive, well-functioning group.” Looking ahead, Garima says she will go ahead with a business as usual attitude. “The Michelin Star has definitely given wind to our sails, but there is so much more to do, and we are only just beginning. I think it is very important that everything I do paves way for the next generation to do better. I want my work to make it easier for Indian chefs to get on the world platform and that is what means more to my career,” she signs off.
This story first appeared in The Tribune dated 5th Jan 2019 here: