Gaggan Anand on restaurant 'suicide,' virtual reality and bringing Ferran Adrià to Bangkok

Laura Price - 08/05/2019

Asia’s four-time No.1 restaurant will close for good next year, but not before the chef-owner pulls out all the stops for the final 12 months of his game-changing Bangkok restaurant

Gaggan Anand has never been one for keeping secrets. In 2016, the outspoken chef declared his intention to close his flagship restaurant, Gaggan, after 10 years, and since then he has been drip-feeding information about his plans for an intimate dining destination with fellow chef Takeshi ‘Goh’ Fukuyama in Fukuoka, Japan.

Some might say the early declaration of Gaggan’s closure was an elaborate PR exercise. Whatever the motive, it worked. The restaurant in the Thai capital topped the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for a record four consecutive years before dropping to No.2 in March, and foodies are flocking to Bangkok from all over the world to try Anand’s creative Indian cuisine while they still can. But will it simply reopen in another guise after its closure on 30 June 2020? Anand says not.

“Four years back when I said I wanted to close my restaurant after 10 years, everybody thought it was a joke, propaganda,” he says. “Now they say ‘oh shit, we need to go before it closes’. Every artist dreams of suicide, and this is my suicide. It’s a suicidal thing, closing your restaurant and not coming back as Gaggan 2.0 or a new version. Gaggan will never come back, never resurface as a restaurant. But I will resurface with Goh.”

The precise details of his resurfacing are still to be decided. Anand wants to open a stay-in restaurant where all guests sleep on the premises, but he says the hotel model would make his dream project lose money. The likely alternative is an intimate pop-up-style restaurant of 16 to 18 seats (the minimum amount to make a profit) that would be open alternate months, with a different theme each month.


Anand with Goh Fukuyama

One detail already confirmed is the name of the restaurant: GohGan. An amalgamation of Gaggan and Goh, the name reflects the collaboration between Anand and Japanese chef Fukuyama, who will close his restaurant, La Maison de la Nature Goh in Fukuoka, in December 2020. The pair do not speak each other’s mother tongues, yet have been collaborating on GohGan pop-up dinners for several years. They aim to open GohGan in 2021.

“Cuisine-wise, it won’t be a cuisine, it will be an experience,” Anand says. “Everybody in the world is doing something or other with food and trying to elaborate techniques on food. We would rather shy away and not showcase our techniques, which are of course there, but rather focus on the idea of my personality and Goh’s personality together; the energy we share together in the restaurant. That’s very important and that experience will carry forward to what I call my future for fine dining. The future for fine dining is about experience. Luxury is no longer about money – everybody has money – but what I want to create is an experience in luxury that money can buy.”

GohGan will open one month and close the next, always with a different theme that is “acted out” by the staff. Anand and Fukuyama have already held pop-ups with themes such as Christmas, ‘7-Eleven’ (with everything based on the convenience store’s produce) and Sakura, or Japanese cherry blossom. At the permanent site, a theme such as ‘medieval’ would entail staff dressing in medieval clothing and serving food made to look like medieval cuisine. “It’s going to be a very crazy restaurant,” he says.


Yoghurt: a long-standing Gaggan dish

Virtual reality menu

While Anand is looking for sites in Fukuoka and working on the new project, he has given up his extensive travel schedule. After several years of regular collaborative dinners, he has vowed not to cook in any other chef’s kitchen over the next year so that he can concentrate on Gaggan.

Part of his plans for the final 12 months involve Apple, the technology giant that took an interest in the Bangkok restaurant when it launched an emoji-only menu a couple of years ago. Anand is now working with Apple to add a virtual reality element to his new menu, which launched this month. Apart from classic dishes such as Yoghurt, Lick it Up and Charcoal, the 25-course menu depicted by emojis is entirely new, with a signature dish involving eating while blindfolded. The virtual reality course is likely to be added in June, allowing diners to use their iPhones to interact with the dish.


Gaggan's May 2019 menu

Anand is also working with Apple on a cookbook, which will be published as an app on the day of the restaurant’s closure in June 2020.

“The book is going to be very crazy because it’s not just a cooking book,” says Anand. “Our restaurant is about storytelling and the experience of being in this place and taking back the memories. That is exactly what we’ve done for the last 10 years and that is what we’re going to do in the book, where people will actually go to the virtual world of the app. It’s very interactive; it’s not just a cooking book. If it works the way we want it to work, it will change cooking books forever.”

Anand also hopes to celebrate his flagship’s final service by bringing Ferran Adrià, the Catalan chef whose restaurant El Bulli inspired much of Gaggan. A dream customer for Anand, Adrià has so far never eaten at Gaggan. The Kolkata, India-born chef met Adrià in January 2010, when he was building Gaggan and doing a stage at the latter’s innovative restaurant in Roses, Spain. El Bulli topped The World’s 50 Best Restaurants five times before dropping to No.2 and closing in 2011, a parallel that is blindingly obvious to Anand and part of the inspiration behind his theory that a decade is the right lifespan for a restaurant.

“When I met Ferran for the first time, everybody wanted to take his photo,” says Anand. “I didn’t want to, because I would always be a guy who took photos with him. I realised if I never take a photo with him, I can become something like him. I can’t be Ferran – nobody can be Ferran – but at least I can stand by him and be respected by him and he can think ‘wow, this guy changed Asia forever’. And that’s exactly what I did.”


Ferran Adrià at his El Bulli Lab

Gaggan’s prodigy

Later in 2020, the site that holds Gaggan and its state-of-the-art research and development kitchen built in 2016 will reopen under the leadership of Rydo Anton, the 29-year-old head chef of Gaggan. Anand will sell some of his share of the restaurant so that Anton owns it with the group’s partners – a similar arrangement to Gaa, the restaurant opposite Gaggan run by Garima Arora, winner of the elit™ Vodka Asia’s Best Female Chef title in 2019.

“Rydo has been with me through thick and thin since 2012 and he deserves his own restaurant,” says Anand. “I would say he is my real prodigy, not anyone else. He feels quite stressed about taking over Gaggan but I have told him to take a chill pill; don’t think about winning the game. He’s really having fun right now. I told him: ‘do what you want to do’. The money is there, the location is there, the name is there. Of course, the stress will also be there because he’s taking over, but this is what everybody goes through. And 50 Best is the best platform and launchpad, so we’ll see.”

Anand will take two or three of the “weaker” members of staff with him to Fukuoka, helping them to develop while leaving the majority to work with Anton. He will continue to invest in young talent, including a possible second branch of the Bangkok wine bar, Wet, which he opened earlier this year with sommelier Vladimir Kojic, in a different city in Asia. He also plans to invest in a dessert-only restaurant in Fukuoka with the pastry chef of his GohGan pop-ups, Makito Hiratsuka. The new venture will be a three- or four-course natural wine and dessert restaurant-cum-cake shop, likely to be called Makito and opening in 2020.


Anand with Rydo Anton

The next foodie destination

As for Fukuoka, Anand predicts the city in southern Japan could be the new Bangkok in 10 years’ time – a destination not just for Japanese restaurant goers but also for global food tourists.

“It is already the foodie destination for domestic Japan,” he says. “Fukuoka is very affordable – the most expensive hotel is $300 so it’s a tenth of the price of Tokyo or any big city in Japan. The second advantage is it’s undiscovered. It is what Bangkok was 10 years ago – Bangkok was more visited but there was no fine dining. From 2009 onwards, we had Bo.Lan, Nahm and Gaggan, then everything changed and Bangkok today is a completely different animal in fine dining.

“Fukuoka is most famous for Tenzushi restaurant, for its ingredients and for being so seasonal in production. Fukuoka is the next boom in Japan. Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido and Kyoto have been so saturated by tourists. I’m going at the right time to the right place; I’m moving in the right direction.”


Grapes Kyohou Grapes, Mackerel, Kumamoto Suizenji at La Maison de la Nature Goh-

Anand will keep his home in Bangkok, where his three-year-old daughter Tara goes to school. He will spend six months of the year in Fukuoka and six in the Thai capital, where he still owns shares in wine bar Wet, meat restaurant Meatlicious and German fine-dining destination Sühring, which he helped drive to No.4 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. As for losing the No.1 spot to Singapore restaurant Odette, he says it’s good timing.

“The curse is over,” he says. “It’s a perfect way to pass on. One should not be at the top forever – it’s not healthy. Being No.2 doesn’t mean that you’re bad or you’re not good enough, it’s just another number. I was surprised that I was still No.2 – I thought I would be 4, 5, 6 – because when many restaurants fall off, they fall off quite a lot. When El Bulli was closing, they were No.2, so I don’t think it was demotivating. I don’t think any restaurant in Asia will ever be four times consecutive No.1 – that is something I challenge to others.”

Anand hopes for success for Gaggan at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 edition, taking place in Singapore on June 25. Follow 50 Best on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news, interviews and videos.