Progressive Indian cuisine

When in a different city, it makes sense for visitors to eat local. Going to Bangkok for Indian food doesn't sound quite right, but judging from how far Gaggan restaurant has come in a mere four years, chef and owner Gaggan Anand must be doing something right.

Then again, we're not talking about traditional Indian food - none of the naans, thosais and curries which Chef Anand calls Indian restaurant food.

"Indian food isn't limited to that."

At Gaggan, what you get is progressive Indian cuisine.

"It is not fusion, which is only about confusion," quips the chef. "The cuisine you get is moving ahead in terms of creativity and innovation."

Asked how different that is from traditional Indian food, Chef Anand says: "The food is the same. It tastes the same, but the presentation is different."

He cites the example of his signature amuse bouche, Yogurt Explosion, which he declares as the dish that marks the birth of progressive Indian cuisine.

"It looks like an egg yolk but it's yogurt, and is just that," he says.

Another dish he calls Guess Me, which look like pieces of charcoal on a plate, is made of charcoal and more.

"Some people think it is crab, some think it is prawns. You have to come try it, and then I'll tell you what it is."

His samosa resembles a bird's nest, with a potato mixture that has been turned into a liquid. Chef Anand describes his cooking style as "innovative, avant garde, Indian, and modernist".

He has a 5S philosophy as well, which he says is part of almost every dish.

The 5Ss? Sweet, salty, sour, spicy and surprises.

Gaggan gets a strong following, not only from the expat crowd, but even the local Thais, which surprises the chef.

"I've had Thais tell me, 'I don't like Indian people, but I like your food.' How racist is that," says the chef, but he doesn't seem too bothered by such comments.

"The true foodies come. There are many who fly in just to dine here," says Chef Anand.

"You either like my food or you hate it. So long as 80 per cent of diners like it, I'm happy."

The Kolkata-born chef was in Singapore to judge the South-east Asia leg of the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 competition, and he is back again, this time as a summit speaker for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

Last year, Gaggan was No. 3 on the Asian list, and No. 17 on The World's 50 Best Restaurant list.

Chef Anand learned many of his modernist cooking techniques during an inspirational internship with the El Bulli research team under Ferran AdriĆ . "They told me to do something to Indian food," he says.

A three-month consultancy stint in Bangkok in 2007 led him to stay on in the Thai capital. He says opening his restaurant in Bangkok meant that he could start with minimal risk.

He took a loan from his friends to open Gaggan, and paid them back in 18 months.

His goal is not to have many Gaggan restaurants: "That would be possible but I don't want to get carried away. I have to control my greed and be focused."

What he will focus on instead is the food, which he says, using a movie analogy, is the "real hero". A chef is just the director.

"If the food is no good, the chef has no value."

He says that what he is cooking today, is what he has been working on for the last three years.

"Gaggan is not at its peak yet, we are now at the foot of the mountain, about to start our upward climb."

He will be at his peak, when "I can cook what I am thinking right now". He whips out his phone, and shows an extremely long list of food ideas that he jots down.

The 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street, - in particular scenes of sniffing cocaine - has given him an idea. "It is definitely controversial, but what if I can recreate that act through food?" he asks.

He throws up suggestions, using a fake credit card and fake US$100 rolled up bill, and lining white powder. "The diner has to sniff the powder, and he will get a high of flavours in his head but not taste anything," he says excitedly.

"Now how do I make that work?"

He adds that he likes to think up ideas like these. "That's creativity, which has no boundaries. I'm crazy like that."

His ultimate goal is not to be the No. 1 restaurant in the world.

"That would be too arrogant," he says. "But I want to be among the top, not to show that I'm the best, but to make my country proud. To go where no Indian has gone before."

This article was first published on March 07, 2015.
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