Garima Arora is the Chef and Owner of Restaurant Gaa and the all-day modern Indian eatery & bar, HERE, in Bangkok. Her cuisine is focused on applying traditional Indian cooking techniques onto locally sourced ingredients.
In 2018, Arora became the first Indian female chef to earn a Michelin star at the age of 32. In March 2019, Restaurant Gaa made its debut on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list at No. 16 with the Highest New Entry Award, and shortly after, claimed its place at No. 95 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Gaa is currently ranked at No. 46 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 list.
Today her mission is to rediscover and reform the narrative on Indian food through her cooking and her not-for-profit initiative, Food Forward India.
Women Fitness President Ms. Namita Nayyar catches up with an exceptionally talented Garima Arora, Chef and Owner of Restaurant Gaa, first Indian female chef to earn a Michelin star who talks about her workout, diet, beauty secrets and success story.
Growing up in Mumbai in a Punjabi family. You started off as a journalist whereby you discovered your love of the culinary arts, and pursued training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and graduated in 2010? Share your journey and what attracted you to become a chef class-apart?
My passion for the culinary world started very early on. I was drawn to it mostly because of the joy I witnessed in both my grandmother and father as they cooked and also our happiness as we tasted the food. So in a way, I kind of always knew that I would get into food someday but it wasn’t until I did some more research and realized that time had to be now, that cooking is a young man’s game and that it would be best that I started right away while I still had the stamina.
During initial years at Noma in Copenhagen and you refined your skills under Chef René Redzepi. In 2016 Arora moved to Asia taking up the position of sous chef at Gaggan’s eponymous restaurant in Bangkok, before opening your own place, Gaa, a year later. Share a memorable incident spent with Chef Rene? Also what all led you to start a restaurant in Bangkok, Asia? Why the name ‘Gaa’? Why did you choose the concept of an ‘Indian breakfast canteen’ as your next restaurant?
Gaa happened by chance, really. While I spent some time exploring and falling in love with Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, I was approached by a group of investors and that was how Gaa came about. Gaa was named after my initials (Garima Arora) to reflect a highly personal and unique cuisine we created.
The idea of HERE came to me as I reflected on how we in India are big breakfast eaters and truth be told, also big lunch and dinner eaters! Our mission with this casual sister restaurant is to showcase a larger spectrum of Indian flavors and techniques but of course, with our own twist and in an easily accessible way to the Thai audience. It was crucial to us to strike this balance as HERE was born in the midst of this pandemic where we could only thrive if we managed to capture the hearts of the locals.
In November 2018, you were awarded a Michelin star & you went on to become the first female Indian chef to receive the distinction. Share your reaction when you came to know about it?
A memorable incident you still hold close to your heart? It was one of those moments where everything was aligned. That night I was sitting down for a meal at the restaurant for the very first time with my core team and suddenly I got a call. The room fell to silence and my team right away all knew from my reaction what it meant.
Once I hung up the phone, we all broke into smiles and hugs. It was such a sweet and heart-warming moment to share with my entire team. It reiterates that in this business, you cannot succeed alone; it takes an immense amount of effort and teamwork in order for a restaurant to run, let alone earning accolades.
Let us know what all goes behind the scene of planning the menu to make it tempting, enriching and serve to the best of capacity to all your clients? Which is the favourite dish of your visitors, a must-try for a first timer, veg & non-veg?
Even though Gaa is a fine dining restaurant and HERE is more casual, our approach to cooking remains the same. In any of our R&D process, there are two approaches: produce and technique. Either we start with an interesting ingredient or a very fascinating technique. Somewhere down the line, the two meet and the one thing that we never sacrifice is deliciousness.
This season for Gaa, our tasting menu highlights the spirits of the Street Food in India. We create dishes which best encapsulate what and how we eat back home whether it be by way of memories, flavors or mannerisms like eating with hands. The goal is to offer familiarity while also surprises the guests with something they’ve never experienced before.
For HERE, our breakfast menu focuses on delivering wholesome and nutritious meals and in fact, most of the dishes are vegetarian. Some of my favorites are our Black Rice Dosa served with freshly churned butter, ghee & gunpowder and coconut & jaggery and my dad’s recipe of Oats Chilla served with some peanut chutney and green salad. Our lunch & dinner menu packs on big and robust flavors.
Some of my favorites are our Crispy Squid Koliwada served with Chinese Celery Mayo and sour dough with homemade makkhan and fried green chillies. Another thing not to be missed is our naughty take on the naans. My favorites are the Candied Ginger & Lime Zest and Spiced Potato with Straciatella Cheese. It’s comfort with little elements of surprise.
This interview is exclusive and taken by Namita Nayyar President womenfitness.net and should not be reproduced, copied or hosted in part or full anywhere without an express permission.
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