If you have been following Chef Gaggan Anand on Instagram (@gaggan), you’ll have noticed his current obsession: Japan. The chef-owner of his eponymous restaurant, ranked no 23 in the world and no 1 in Asia (twice in a row now by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants), is in love with the country, and with good reason. In 2020, Anand plans to shutter Bangkok-based Gaggan and set up a weekend-only restaurant in Fukuoka, a Japanese city known for its ancient temples and beaches. Though the 38-year-old chef refuses to divulge details, he says, “It’s my exit plan from Gaggan. I want to do a restaurant in a house, 12 seats only, and cook simple, comfort food.”
Anand was in the city for a closed-door, one-day only pop-up to showcase some of the upcoming dishes at Gaggan.
Known for his cutting-edge, modernist take on Indian food (think egg bhurji soufflé and salli boti made out of an intense reduction of lamb curry and then spherified), the Kolkata-born chef is adopting a slower pace in the kitchen. “In the last four years, my cooking style has changed completely. I am moving towards comfort cooking,” he says.
Recently, Anand set up Meatlicious, a steakhouse in Bangkok that serves the best of imported beef from Japan, cooked on a charcoal grill. “Everyone was saying that I have become too modern and that I can’t cook without science and my equipment. This was my way of saying f*** you to them,” he adds.
Though Anand visits this restaurant once a month, he’s devised a clever way of keeping a check on his chefs. “Since the kitchen is basic. I’ve given the chefs fire that they can’t increase or decrease. I’ve given them imported beef, so they can’t overcook it or I’ll cut from their salary,” he says.
Over the last two years, Anand has also set up a culinary lab at Gaggan. This is where the mad scientist conducts his experiments. “We’re always experimenting. We conceptualised a modern version of black forest cake two hours ago,” he says. Other experiments include dishes such as truffle ghevar, a savoury dish served with truffle ice cream; kiss me — edible lips made of Rooh Afza and edible golf ball, made of rice with a surprise filling.
So, how does he come up with these crazy combinations? “Because I am a weirdo, and it works with my food,” adds Anand. Apart from one-off pop-ups, diners in India won’t be able to sample these creations, unless they make a trip to Bangkok. “I am not doing any restaurant in India. I am too focussed on my kitchen in Bangkok. Instead of putting all my energy into other things I want to put that energy back into Gaggan,” he says.
Anand is also helping his mentee Chef Garima Arora (who had a successful stint at Noma, ranked one of the world’s best restaurants) set up a restaurant a few meters away from Gaggan. “It will be called Ga for Garima. Each year I want to open one restaurant with a young chef who’s worked with me. I am going to invest in their talent and name the restaurant after them. So, basically I am creating my own competitors,” says Anand. Perhaps, it is this fearless attitude that has helped him stay ahead of the game and win accolades.