Garima Arora is the chef and owner of Gaa Restaurant and the all day modern Indian Restaurant and Bar HERE in Bangkok. Her cuisine focuses on applying traditional Indian cooking techniques to locally sourced ingredients.
In 2018, Arora became the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star at the age of 32. In March 2019, the Gaa restaurant made its debut on the list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia at number 16 with the Highest New Entry Award and shortly thereafter it was at number 95 on the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. Gaa is currently ranked 46th on the list of 50 best restaurants in Asia for 2020.
Today, her mission is to rediscover and reform the narrative about Indian food through her kitchen and her nonprofit Food Forward India initiative.
Fitness President Namita Nayyar catches up with an exceptionally talented Garima Arora, cook and owner of the Gaa restaurant, who is the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star and who talks about her training, diet, beauty secrets and success story.
Grew up in Mumbai in a Punjabi family. Did you start out as a journalist, where you discovered your love for culinary art and completed an apprenticeship at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and graduated in 2010? Share your journey and what made you decide to become a top-class chef?
My passion for the culinary world started very early. I felt attracted mainly because of the joy I experienced in both my grandmother and father’s cooking, and also because of our happiness when we tried the food. In a way, I always knew that one day I would come over to dinner, but it wasn’t until I did more research and realized that it was time now, that cooking is a game for young men, and that the best thing is that I do right now started while I still had the stamina.
During your first years at Noma in Copenhagen, you honed your skills under Chef René Redzepi. In 2016, Arora moved to Asia and took on the position of sous-chef at Gaggan’s restaurant of the same name in Bangkok, before opening her own place, Gaa, a year later. Do you share a memorable incident with Chef Rene? And what made you start a restaurant in Bangkok, Asia? Why the name “Gaa”? Why did you choose the “Indian Breakfast Canteen” concept as your next restaurant?
Gaa really happened by accident. While I was spending some time exploring and falling in love with Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, I was approached by a group of investors and that’s how Gaa came about. Gaa was named after my initials (Garima Arora) to reflect a very personal and unique cuisine that we have created.
The idea of HERE came to me while thinking about how we are big breakfast eaters in India and, to be honest, big lunch and dinner eaters too! Our mission at this casual sister restaurant is to showcase a wider range of Indian flavors and techniques, but of course with our own twist and in an easily accessible way to the Thai audience. It was vital for us to find that balance as HERE was born in the midst of this pandemic in which we could only thrive if we managed to capture the hearts of the locals.
In November 2018 you were awarded a Michelin star and were the first Indian cook to receive the award. Do you share your reaction when you found out about this?
A memorable incident that you still care about? It was one of those moments when everything was coordinated. That evening I sat down with my core team to eat in the restaurant for the first time and suddenly got a call. The room went silent and my team immediately knew what it meant from my reaction.
After I hung up, we all burst into smiles and hugs. It was a sweet and heartwarming moment to share with my entire team. It is repeated that you cannot be successful in this business on your own. It takes immense effort and teamwork to run a restaurant, let alone receive awards.
Let us know what goes behind the scenes in planning the menu to make it enticing, enriching and to give all of your customers the best possible capacity. What is the favorite dish of your visitors, a must for a beginner, vegetables and non-vegetables?
Although Gaa is an upscale restaurant and HERE is more informal, our approach to cooking remains the same. There are two approaches to each of our R&D processes: production and technology. We either start with an interesting ingredient or a very fascinating technique. At some point the two meet and the only thing we never sacrifice is deliciousness.
This season for Gaa, our tasting menu highlights the spirits of street food in India. We create dishes that best summarize what and how we eat at home, be it through memories, flavors or mannerisms like eating with your hands. The aim is to provide familiarity and surprise guests with something they have never experienced before.
For HERE, our breakfast menu focuses on delivering healthy and nutritious meals, and in fact most of the dishes are vegetarian. Some of my favorites are our Black Rice Dosa, served with freshly churned butter, ghee & gunpowder, and coconut & jaggery, and my dad’s recipe for Oats Chilla, served with some peanut chutney and green salad. Our lunch and dinner menu offers large and robust flavors.
Some of my favorites are our crispy squid koliwada, served with Chinese celery mayo and sourdough with homemade makkhan and fried green chili peppers. Another thing not to be missed is our naughty take on the naans. My favorites are the candied ginger and lime peel and the spiced potato with straciatella cheese. It’s comfort with little elements of surprise.
The full interview continues on the next page
This interview is exclusive and will be conducted by Namita Nayyar President womenfitness.net. It may not be reproduced, copied or hosted in whole or in part without express permission.
All written content Copyright © 2021 Women Fitness
Disclaimer of liability
The content is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider if you have any questions about a medical condition.