The owner of Bangkok’s Gaggan, twice awarded the best restaurant in Asia, speaks to Francesca Hool about progressive Indian food, where he gets his inspiration and the best way to spend 30p
What’s your ethos as a chef? - I constantly ask myself ‘what is fine food?’ Fine food doesn’t have to be a restaurant or fine dining. For me, it’s something that’s cooked from the heart and done with integrity. In my opinion, you find that in street food. I call my food ‘progressive’ because I am not trying to do a new version of Indian food. When you create art you don’t have a boundary, you have a blank canvas; it could go wrong, it has no rules. I am a rebel and I combine the flavours I grew up with.
Where did you learn your trade? - I learnt my cooking from my family in Kolkata. The taste that I developed is the humble taste of India. It’s those memories, those modest flavours of my country that I am transforming on a plate. When you come from a common man’s taste, you can’t go wrong. India is like a USB stick for me; I just have to plug it in to bring the flavours back.
Where have you travelled recently? - My wife and I connected through our love of food and we travel to see how cuisine is adapted to a country. We always go away for three months when it’s rainy season in Bangkok and we’ve just been to Milan. I loved the restaurant Obicà and followed it with a visit to Venchi for gelato. New Orleans was excellent, too. Gumbo Shop – the home of creole – was incredible. Next, I’m taking my family to Barcelona. We’re going to Tickets and Casa Jordi, my favourite spots. They’re both chilled about kids eating there, which helps.
What ingredients are you working with at the moment? - I’ve just done a pop-up in Korea, where I was reintroduced to kimchi (fermented vegetables). Everything I knew about it changed. We created a whole menu from the island of Jeju. The food market was amazing. I used seaweed, sea urchins, truffle ghewar (a Rajasthani sweet) and mandarins. I also had the best fried chicken of my life at Moonshine Secret Garden in Seoul. I’ve taken their recipe for barbecued black pork.
Where should we go to eat in Bangkok? - It’s one of those 24-hour cities: a place where things reveal themselves at night. I have a list of unknown places in Silom I take my team to after hours. There’s an amazing ramen joint that closes at 3am called Ramen Tei and another called Sendai Kama-Jin. Along soi (road) 23 we have a Thai street food place and a sushi bar where we go and drink a lot of beer. We eat as much barbecued seafood as we can and spend ten baht (30p). You should try Sühring restaurant and go to Samyan fish market bright and early.
What inspires you? - I have a fetish for all things Japan. It is the country that mastered fine dining before anyone else. When you’re there you get obsessed with perfection. That obsession helps an ill-disciplined person like me become disciplined.
What are your essential kitchen tools? - I’m a simple guy. All I need is a good knife and a fire. Food is about basics. I love a pestle and mortar because you put anything in and crushing is better than chopping, mincing or mixing.
This article was published on 15th March 2017 so certain details may not be up to date.