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Is there an emoji for three?!?
Gaggan Anand's sense of humour was clearly still in order, even if he seemed shocked by his stunning success in claiming the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Award sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna for the third year in a row.
This year's top ten restaurants had already surprised many, even before the final three were announced. Odette in Singapore boasted the highest new entry in the history of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants to debut at number 9. But the unprecendented victory bought the loudest gasps as soon as it had become clear to the 150 chefs and 600 guests in the room that Singapore's Restaurant André was in second place (click here for the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2017 full list).
A challenging - and successful - year
The victory represented a remarkable third personal triumph for Gaggan, the genial and popular chef who typically wore his heart on his sleeve, fighting back tears when talking about some of the challenges he had faced along the way, especially as a new dad: “After the last Asia's 50 Best Restaurants we went back and I changed completely my team. What if we were number 2 or number 3 this year? Then everything I did in 2016 would have been wrong. But I don't know, I'm just lucky the first time. Second time I worked hard, but this year I really worked hard. I needed this to go back and give it to my wife and say don't blame me that I'm not a good father! I took everything and put it into this award.”
He was very clear what the award meant to him – and how it continued to inspire him: “This award motivates me to work harder every day. I feel humbled with all these chefs here. I wish I could break the award in 50 pieces and share it with every chef in the room. This is for my country where I came from, India. For Tara my daughter and my family. The 67 people in my restaurant are the best team I've ever worked with.”
Motivation and inspiration
Motivation has always been Gaggan's biggest driver, pushing him to greater success and reaching new heights, as he explained by thanking the awards: “The first day that I went professionally to cook was the day that I learnt 'this is my life'. I took the right decision and choice and had the right people to motivate me to be what I am today. Motivation is the most important part of life. With no motivation, no Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, no awards, we wouldn't even know what we're cooking - are we doing the right thing or the wrong thing?"
The inspirations behind both his formidable work ethic and success were also apparent when he talked about the greatest influences on his background, citing the legendary El Bulli. “El Bulli was my nirvana and my knowledge. It changed my life. I will never ignore people who made me what I am today. When I stand with Ferran Adrià, with all these chefs here, I feel humbled.”
He also talked at length about the importance of his lab, a unique new dining space he launched to carry out experiments inspired by his time in the famed Spanish restaurant that closed its doors in 2011. It was a key constant in a year of upheaval and change: “2016 was seriously challenging. My head of Research & Development left, my manager left, they all thought that I was doing something wrong. And those who stood by – and stood beside me – everybody told them 'Leave this guy, he's insane!' But we all thought, we believed we could do this again. I don't know if we can do it next time, but three times the lab really helped us. We were really pushing towards levels that I didn't even see myself. So I'm really happy.”
taking to the stage for a 'cheffie'
When he had taken to the stage following the awards ceremony along with the other winning chefs for a unique cheffie - a chef selfie – it was clear that the goodwill was still in abundance and mutual. And back at the press conference, he repeated his love for the experience and unique bonding opportunity offered by the awards and programme around it: “Asia's 50 Best Restaurants is like a big birthday party with your friends, your people.” Right on cue – but totally unscripted – André Chiang rushed up and joined him on stage for a bear hug of congratulations. “Let´s have a big hand for him, he deserves it! Ask him some questions. There's no difference between number two, number one or number fifty.”
Of course the next stage is the upcoming World's 50 Best Restaurants in Melbourne in April, with Gaggan again joking that it involves yet another visa for an Indian passport holder. But in seriousness, he clearly sees it as another opportunity to learn and improve still further – not to mention take a well-earned break: “I'm going to talk with these legends: Jordi Roca, Daniel Humm, these incredible people. Melbourne is very exciting for me and I've never been to Australia properly, so I'll take a long holiday.”
Modest to the end and always learning, even after a remarkable triumph that will surely be hard to ever match, he left to host what would surely be the mother of all celebration parties.