The talented cook creating strikingly modern cuisine with Indian techniques and Thai ingredients
Three years ago, Garima Arora was bound for her native India, where she had been handpicked by chef Gaggan Anand to run a new restaurant. When the project fell through, the same team of investors offered Arora a space right opposite Gaggan in Bangkok, where she had been working for several months. It was a decision that changed Arora’s career, leading to the opening of Gaa and triggering a chain of successes that now see her considered as one of the best cooks in the region at just 32 years old.
While Gaa is not an Indian restaurant per se, it focuses on cooking techniques developed over centuries in India that have influenced much of Asia. These including cooking on fire, extracting umami from vegetables, pickling and fermentation, and using different fats to transform flavours. The restaurant also puts an emphasis on eating with the hands, a common tradition in India that allows for a greater connection between diner and dish.
Gaa was an instant hit with critics from Bangkok and further afield, but Arora’s success didn’t come overnight. The chef graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 2010, moving onto Le Quartier du Pain in Paris and Verre by Gordon Ramsay in Dubai, then Noma in Copenhagen from 2013 to 2015. It was Noma chef-owner René Redzepi who had the strongest impact on Arora’s career and cuisine, teaching her not just new techniques but also how to think about food in a different way.
Arora’s relocation to Bangkok in 2016 was meant to be temporary while she prepared for the planned restaurant opening in India, but by the time the restaurant had fallen through, she had fallen in love with Thailand’s rich flavours, its markets and its people. She opened Gaa in April 2017 with a 10- and 14-course tasting menu of dishes including duck doughnut; strawberry, caviar and hor; and her signature unripe jackfruit with roti and pickles. In 2018, she became the first Indian female chef to earn a Michelin star, and in 2019 she has been voted the best female cook in Asia.
Much of Arora’s success is down to the deep thought that she puts into her food and the constant search for new flavours and combinations that diners have never experienced before. This desire goes back to her childhood, learning from her parents, who would return from their business travels with new recipes gleaned from trips abroad, and from her grandparents, who would teach her traditional Indian methods while her mother and father were away.
Now Arora wants to change the world’s perceptions of Indian food, opening minds to a cuisine that she says can have as much influence in Asia as French cuisine has had in Europe. With her status as one of the most talented chefs in the region, she is in a strong position to give India’s lesser-known food heritage the international acclaim it so deserves.
68/4 Soi Langsuan
Ploenchit Road Lumpini
Now read the interview with Garima Arora
Images: Anne-Emmanuelle Thion / Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants