Garima Arora, the world's first female Indian Michelin-starred chef, has opened a new restaurant - a concept based on the traditional Indian breakfast canteen - called HERE, in Bangkok.
After gaining worldwide recognition for her modern Indian cuisine at Gaa, Arora has now turned her attention to HERE, which opens for early risers at 7:30 am, and shuts up shop at 5 pm (after which it turns into a wine bar). It’s an unusual approach for a Michelin-starred chef, but one that draws on her Indian heritage to make something genuinely new and exciting. We caught up with Arora ahead of her big opening to find out all about HERE.
Masala Omelet, Toast
How have you been recently?
It has been a difficult year, that's for sure. Having to close down a successful-running restaurant and moving 40 staff members with us was no easy feat. But we try to look at any challenge in a positive light too. This downtime has given us a chance to reflect on our previous business model and think about the things that mattered to us. And most importantly, it gave us the time to finally bring the idea of HERE to life.
Masala Egg Bhurji, Butter Pav
How did the coronavirus crisis affect your business?
Coronavirus has affected restaurants worldwide and we are no exception. We had to shut down Gaa when Bangkok went into a lockdown back in March. That was a very tough moment and I have to say that unless the borders start opening up, things won't get any easier.
You have chosen to open a new restaurant in a very uncertain time. What has that been like?
HERE has been a long-time vision of mine, and fortunately we got a head-start on this project a couple of months prior to the coronavirus breakout. There are definitely challenges along the way but I believe that it is so important to stay hopeful, especially in uncertain times.
Oats Chilla, Fresh Salad, Peanut Chutney
HERE has an Indian breakfast canteen theme. Can you explain why and what it means?
I have always wanted to have a fun everyday place. When we found this perfect location, the idea of building a restaurant inspired by an Indian canteen came to me instantly. HERE is intended to recreate the energy of a canteen as we know it back home, where you can walk in for real, comforting and nutritious food that packs big in flavour.
Homemade Bran Flakes, Jasmine Milk
Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
Us Indians are big breakfast eaters. For most people, this is the only meal that they get to eat wholesome and nutritious home-cooked food, prepared by their family, to get the right start of the day.
Green Peas & Mango Salad and Bombay Potato Paniyaram
Will your clientele be different? Are you serving a certain type of customer?
Yes, absolutely. Our clientele pre-coronavirus was 80% tourists and now that the borders are closed, we are catering solely to locals.
As a chef, how does running a breakfast restaurant differ from running one that does lunch and dinner?
HERE is open all day, actually. In the daytime, guests can look forward to our all-day breakfast menu, focusing on wholesome Indian dishes like black rice dosa with homemade cultured butter, savoury millet porridge, masala bhurji and buckwheat pancakes. Even homemade cereals with slushy jasmine milk and our own recipes of beloved Indian beverages like chai, cold coffee and shikanji (Indian lemonade). There will be a storefront dedicated to serving the drinks alongside a menu of freshly-made tea snacks, like hearty paniyarams and assorted flavours of kulfis [Indian ice cream]. But the fun doesn’t just end there. Starting at 5:30pm, HERE turns into a wine bar with a dinner menu, serving hearty, wholesome Indian flavours like betel leaf chaat and grilled breads served with meat and vegetable kebabs, along with our extensive wine list, put together by our head sommelier, Fred, which features exclusive old-world wines that you can’t find anywhere else in the city.
What’s your culinary inspiration for HERE?
We are very much inspired by the flavours we loved eating growing up in India and also the food we would love to eat while enjoying a bottle of wine. In a way, the inspiration is to create the kind of restaurant where I want to eat at for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe I will.
Black Rice Dosa, Homemade Cheese, Gun Powder
The West is finally beginning to appreciate the true depth, complexity and the beauty of Indian cuisine. What can they learn from Indian cooking?
For the longest time, Indian and Chinese cooking has influenced this part of the world, and if an Asian cuisine would come out of age, it would be through the Indian way of cooking with techniques. I believe Indian techniques have the same tools as French cuisine to create something truly modern and relevant.
Besan Puri with Mango Ma Kwaen Pepper Srikhand
All Sprout Salad
Poha, Crisp Potato Pomelo