Avni Mehrotra

reformed journalist

disgruntled restaurant marketer
 
always hungry, always foolish
No Indian restaurant has impressed me: Gaggan Anand

No Indian restaurant has impressed me: Gaggan Anand

His eponymous restaurant has recently been awarded the best restaurant in Asia, but chef Gaggan Anand doesn’t seem to rest. While some may consider his flair too arrogant, with the laurels the man has been awarded with, his affability seems too delightful. Unabashed, yet logical about the state of Indian food around the world, Gaggan Anand gives his purview of the cuisine he guards close to his heart.

The question which is on everyone’s mind? When and where are you coming to India?

I am planning to come to India for sure, mostly by the end of this year, or early next year. I want to come to India to enjoy India-not to teach Indians Indian food. And I know that the Indian food I prepare will taste better in India. I will be able to use heeng and kesar, as much I want to, and can source it whenever I want to. We are already in talks with people; scouting for a location is the next step. The restaurant in India will have a new chef, a new identity. I will just be the coach. Just like people come to Gaggan to eat Gaggan cuisine, the chef will create his own cuisine, which people will come to his restaurant for.

Where do you think Indian chefs lack?

Indian chefs are domestically very happy, with domestic fame, especially this young crop of chefs who lack enthusiasm and treat restaurants as corporate jobs. They switch restaurants for the brand name and are hardly researching, innovating or learning anything about food. Everyone has their dreams, for some chefs the point is to attend parties and cut ribbons on launches or be a TV star, and several good Indian chefs are doing that. I think chefs in India should first learn how to cook a perfect omelet. The amount of time chefs in India spend on acquiring fame, they should spend on cooking and learning. I have seen chefs who say they haven’t cooked in 20 days, how exactly can they call themselves chefs? And especially explore and learn your own cuisine before thinking of mastering Italian, Oriental and international cuisines

Any restaurant which has impressed you in India?

I haven’t got anyone who has impressed me in India, barring Manish Mehrotra, from Indian Accent, New Delhi. I think Manish is our only hope. Perhaps chefs should come out of that TV and stardom mode and research more on the food. Chefs have to evolve and improve constantly. Be known for one dish, but that one dish should be out of this world. And focus on being known for the food, instead of creating a personal brand name.

Indian food is still dominated by curry based restaurants and rubbery naans, which you see abroad? Why is that quality of food not changing?

We all like the dal makhani and curry based dishes served at restaurants as that is our comfort food, and also, it is quite tasty. Even I prefer eating hawker style street side food. I may play with food all I want, but I want my food to be comfortable. But that is not the food we prepare or eat at home. No one makes kebabs or samosas or dhaba food at home daily. How many Indians actually prepare kadai paneer, like the one served at restaurants at their places? I have seen Indian food being projected very badly abroad. It is such an exciting and varied cuisine, with diversity in taste, and it is so underrated, so badly represented. The problem is the commericalisation of food. Restaurants abroad are opened by NRIs who are looking to mint money and serve ‘Indian’ food the way the locals want to eat it, not the way it should be made. It’s business, and in the order to sell as many covers as possible, the quality is badly getting affected.

What are the places you like dining at in India?

I recently loved this place called SodaBottleOpenerWala, Delhi. It’s a brave concept to take a cuisine to a place where no one knows it, and do well there. But I am all for comfortable street side, hawker Indian food. Some of my favourites are Gajalee, Swati Snacks and Britannia in Mumbai.

How far are Indians from appreciating molecular gastronomy and other eccentric styles of presentation on their table, on a regular basis?

Molecular gastronomy is not gimmicky- there has to be logic behind the preparation and usage of ingredients together. We are far from appreciating this magic on the plate on a daily basis, but with restaurants in India bringing in these presentation flairs to the table, people are increasingly enjoying the them. Also, there are always different audiences, one which wants to go to an udipi every Sunday and likes and appreciates the food there, while one that is well-travelled and well-versed with authentic tastes from abroad. Just like how someone would buy a Manish Malhotra and someone would pick up a sari from Karol Bagh, in food, there are different people who would appreciate different things. Chefs should remember that their food has to make sense. There has to be a 5S philosophy when you prepare something- Salty, sweet, spicy, sour and the 5th element is surprise. But ultimately, the hero in any restaurant is the food, not the chef.

What’s next?

I am working on my lab in my restaurant, with the comfort food restaurant in Bangkok- for the curry based Indian food that people want. Also, the restaurant in India is where the focus is.

Having held this benchmark, how do you take people who ape you?

I don’t believe people ape or copy anyone, but rather take inspiration from others. If once someone starts a trend, everyone would want to do it. I take it as the best flattery when people replicate or take inspiration from something I have done.

What is the thought process or inspiration behind a Gaggan dish?

My philosophy is to constantly innovate and create- there shouldn’t be a time barrier. Something can take two years to be created while something may take two days. My inspiration comes from the memories of food from the humble street vendors, which I grew up eating. They have been creating fantasies and serving lovely Indian food since ages, even since we didn’t have any restaurants.

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