When he left his home country of India 10 years ago to move to Bangkok, chef Gaggan Anand says there was no fine dining scene in Thailand. Now, as his restaurant has topped the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four years in a row, he says the region’s gastronomic industry has only just started – but instead of simply replicating what has been done in Europe, cooks must adapt to Asian culture and palates to find true success.
“Asia has just begun. We’re Crazy Rich Asians,” he said, referring to the movie of the same name. “We want our food before time, we want things to happen before we want… we have this third-world appetite with first-world thinking. And suddenly the third-world appetite behaves like first world, and we don’t have the social skills of being in a fine restaurant; we are loud, we have our own domestic approach to food and that is why in Gaggan we changed everything.”
By changing everything, Anand refers to creating a menu made out of emoji symbols and serving 25 courses, of which 22 are to be eaten with the hands – a reference to how most people eat in India. He says that leaving India removed him from his comfort zone, but at the same time influenced the cuisine he serves today.
“The first bridge I burned was taking the step to leave my home ground, my comfort zone,” Anand says. “I left India forever and went to Bangkok and from then destiny has laid a different life that I live today. Domestically in India, we eat with the hands. How do I take this memory and put it into a creative process for a three-hour meal which has become a culinary destination in Thailand, where 10 years back, they didn’t even know what fine dining was? This is why I started doing this.”
Since then, while Asia’s fine dining scene has progressed, Gaggan’s menu has evolved from modern Indian to be influenced by cuisines from all over the world. Anand has invested in other restaurant projects in Bangkok including the casual burger joint Meatlicious, restaurant Sühring, Wet bar, Mihara Tofuten and Gaa. He now plans to close Gaggan in 2020 after 10 years of running the restaurant, and will open a 10-seater in Fukuoka, Japan.
“The foundations today that we didn’t have 10 years back are that Asia is not only about Japanese cuisine – and I love Japanese cuisine and am moving there – but we have restaurants from all over Asia. There’s a new movement out there, which is 30 or 40 years late, but we’re catching up fast!”
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Header images: Gaggan Anand at #50BestTalks and Gin tonic uni at Gaggan
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