An interview with India’s most-celebrated chef: Gaggan Anand
Gaggan Anand is blunt. He is blunt to the point of being considered rude. In an industry where everyone sugarcoats things, and where chefs pander to their many (sometimes undeserving) critics, he is a refreshing change.
Chef Gaggan was in India recently as part of a popup organized by Cellar Door Hospitality Pvt Ltd. This was the first time he cooked for the Indian public. Even before he arrived, people went to town about the price of his 11 course meal, Rs.12,500 per person (plus taxes). Chef Gaggan came to India armed with his own specially crafted crockery, the finest ingredients, 260 kilos of food, and his own equipment. As he repeatedly said, the logistics of his visit were the most expensive and hence the premium price.
Luckily for him, there were many willing to pay to eat food cooked by the person behind the restaurant voted the 17th best in the world. His dinners in Delhi and Mumbai were sold out. He could’ve increased the number or as he said, ‘cooked for the many people who invited me to their homes’ but he didn’t want to be a ‘whore’.
I was lucky enough to meet him and attend a cooking demo of his, through which I learned that he is a compulsive eater, who loves street food. He believes the Japanese have the best food in the world. He doesn’t believe too much in Michelin stars, saying the true stars are places like Swati Snacks and Britannia (in Mumbai) who have been serving delicious food for years.
Excerpts from the interview:
On molecular gastronomy:
I do progressive Indian food, I would rather not call it molecular gastronomy. What I’ve seen of this style of cooking here in India is quite bad. It’s misused. It’s good for us because when we show people the real deal, they are wowed.
Plans for India?
If I do a restaurant or settle down here, I would do 40-50 covers per night and charge Rs1,500 for a tasting menu. It will be a money-making machine. In India I am going to make money.
I love street food everywhere in the world, except in America. They don’t really have street food there. I make several trips to India and go and eat only the street food. I carry my pills along, black charcoal and dysentry pills. I just eat and eat. I am not afraid of falling sick.
Indian food scene:
It is super exciting. There is a lot more regional representation. South Indian food is moving beyond just dosas, there are specialty restaurants just for seafood and our Italian food has finally moved from being Indian-Italian to proper Italian. There needs to be better Japanese, Mexican, Spanish food though because everything has too many spices and too much chilli. The problem is we go beyond the dignity of our chef to listen to a customer and please them. The guest is not always right. That’s an outdated belief and that’s why we are outdated in our food. If the food is stale or smelly then it makes sense to complain. If guest says, in pizza put chilli flakes or ‘make me a paneer tikka’, that’s wrong. Can you demand such things outside India? Can you go to Italy and ask for chilli flakes? They will throw you out. I’ve thrown out customers. Some of them have been Indian celebrities too. I don’t take tantrums. When you come to Gaggan, you are coming to eat the food I am preparing.
In India, if a restaurant does well, in six months they want to branch out. Is money such a greed here? The moment they get a little bit of fame they go to television or write a book. They seem to forget that they are chefs and they have to cook. If every good chef in the country spent the next five years just cooking and experimenting with food, there’s no saying how far India will go in the future. I would never do a reality show. I’m not ready for it. When I become commercial and focus on making money, then I will do television. When I do that, I will only focus on that. If I have to write a book, I will shut down Gaggan or take a sabbatical and just write. I like to keep my focus on one thing.
Experience at El Bulli labs:
Whatever they knew of Indian food was all rubbish. My introduction to Ferran Adria was more through the ingredients especially kala namak, and the use of spices like javitri, elachi and clove. On my last day, I prepared a Catalan goat like bhuna gosht. There were nine kilos of meat that was finished by 15 of them. Ferran said it was the best lamb dish ever. He hasn’t visited Gaggan yet…that would be a very scary moment for me. He tells everyone who comes to Bangkok to eat at my place.