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He’s still emotional when he sits down, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet, it’s all over his face. The initial tears have gone but the overwhelming feeling of finding out his Gaggan restaurant in Bangkok has been picked as Asia’s Best Restaurant 2015 seems to have completely surprised the Indian chef Gaggan Anand.
“People never thought that Indian food could reach so far with a modern definition”, he explains referring to the deconstructed Indian street food he’s become so famous for. A style he learned at elBulli and one he’s carried with pride ever since Ferran Adrià told him to take his techniques and apply them to the food of his birthplace in Kolkata, India.
“I think this is the most underrated cuisine in the world in terms of fine food, the most underrated. It’s like the pasta story, everyone likes pasta as a humble dish but if there’s a chef who tries to create something different, like Massimo Bottura, people don’t know what to make of it. Indian has very high potential, it’s the most diverse cuisine in the world, there are 26 cuisines in India and each cuisine is so different to each other - I could make 26 Gaggans with these 26 different cuisines… it’s so diverse.”
He opened Gaggan in Bangkok in 2010 with a goal to change the perception of Indian cuisine and a top position on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List has cemented this ambition. “I feel great… I feel proud to do what I dreamt about and do it in the time that I thought I could do it.” The first thing he says he did was phone his mum who he promises is a much better cook than he will ever be, “She was scared because I was so emotional. I said: mum, I’m the best restaurant in Asia”.
However, best restaurant in Asia is not enough for Anand who thinks “there should always be dreams”. “The next dreams are always there - you look at Asia, you look at the world, it’s always there. Let me be honest with you, if I can reach among the top five in the world with the food that I’m doing now or the food I will be doing in the next five years - I want to be in that top five and I want to be consistent there.”
He phone buzzes on the table throughout - “I’ve had about 150 reservations in the past 10 minutes” - he laughs as the phone rings once again. I ask if he will feed this extra demand with new restaurants, perhaps even opening one in India? “I will be a high price commodity in India now”, he answers. “Yes, I want to go to India, but is it the right time? I can’t tell you that, but I will eventually end up in India because if I’m not successful in India, it’s like playing in your home ground, my home ground is not Bangkok - so if you win at home you feel better.”
He says he’s already working on plans to open a simple curry house across from Gaggan in Bangkok. “We’ve decided to open a curry house right opposite our restaurant, no reservations, if you want to do the fine level come for a reservation, expect what we give and we’ll try our best. But if you think the world’s best Indian restaurant should have a curry in it, go to the curry house - it will take about six more months to meet those expectations. The restaurant (Gaggan) started as a hybrid, we did curries and we did progressive, slowly the fame helped us to cook the way we want to cook, but in the process we have lost a lot of the people who loved us from day one when we were nothing, they call me and say: “Gaggan, I want to eat that curry”.
He realises the significance of the win for Indian cuisine and for Indian chefs in general, but warns them not to stray from the traditions he has anchored his own style in. “Indian chefs should not run for fame but believe in what they do and cook damn good Indian food, don’t cook something that you didn’t eat when you were ten-years-old. You should know how to make good noodles, Thai curry, nachos, taco or a ceviche but this is not what we ate - you should cook what you know.”
He receives a picture from Bangkok of his entire team celebrating and his eyes well up again, a humble boy from a humble background doing everything he can to remain humble as the world’s gastro spotlight burns a whole in his forehead. There seems little chance of it going to his head as he explains tonight will end with a plate of Singapore’s famous chilli crab with a group of his closest friends, no champagne, big hotels or flash parties and certainly no plans to build an empire of restaurants to hang his name above the door. Instead, he warns that one day he will close it all and start again.
“Look at elBulli - it’s my bible, it’s my vatican. They closed elBulli - they could have run it for the next 20 years and still got it full. They closed it, opened seven restaurants and they created seven heroes. They’re teaching me what to do, they’re always my inspiration. I was very lucky to be at elBulli during the part where they decided to close, so when I think I’m at my peak and I don’t know where that will be - I’m still not at my peak let me very clear about this. I still have many more things to go for - but once I get to that peak I will close my restaurant.”