Mumbai-bred, Bangkok-based chef Garima Arora catapulted straight to fame when her restaurant Gaa won a Michelin star last November; making her the only woman of Indian origin to win one. The former journalist, who studied in Jai Hind College, Mumbai, attended Le Cordon Bleu and worked with the elites of the food industry—Gordon Ramsay, Gaggan Anand, René Redzepi—before opening her own restaurant in 2017. While it was business-as-usual the day after winning the prestigious award, Arora took some time out to speak with us about how travel shapes her food.
1) Would you agree that travel is essential to being a chef?
Yes, absolutely. Travel fuels creativity and opens up the mind to new possibilities. It gives perspective on what you’re doing, and is definitely refreshing when you work in a kitchen for 12-15 hours a day.
2) How has travel inspired the food you make?
I have worked in four different countries (France, United Arab Emirates, Denmark and Thailand) over the past decade. I take a little of everything from each food culture and this is reflected in the eclectic cuisine of Gaa.
3) What about at Gaa? Are there any dishes or techniques that directly embody a travel memory?
My team and I were travelling in the Northern part of Thailand in 2016 when we found this amazing fruit called egg fruit. It is sweet and creamy, with a texture and colour similar to egg yolk, giving it the name. We ended up using it to make egg fruit ice cream. The joy of eating something new for the very first time coupled with being in a new place made that moment so special and I want to recreate that same feeling for our guests.
4) Why did you pick Bangkok to open your restaurant?
The combination of the indigenous foods, the people and the strong connection to my own country, make me feel like I could feel at home in Bangkok yet be pushed to create something new.
5) Your past experience ranges from Verre to Gaggan—how would you define your style?
Young, modern, intelligent.
6) What was the defining moment when you turned to food?
In 2006, I was on a trip to Singapore with a friend and tasted hotpot for the very first time. I fell in love with it. I came back home and wanted to recreate that same experience for my family. That moment—cooking a hotpot for my family—is when I realised food is what I wanted to be doing with my life.
7) How often to travel back to India? Are there any cherished travel memories from the country?
Not as much as I’d like to. In 2007 I took a road trip with my parents to Lahaul Spiti and all over Himachal Pradesh. I think it was the food I ate there (a mix of European, Indochinese and Northeast Indian influences) coupled with the beautiful Himalayas that made it one of the most memorable travels of my life. And to experience that with my parents, who are my best friends, definitely made the trip extra special. Even though they are based in Mumbai, we travel together a lot.
8) What would you say has been your most memorable trip?
I went hunting in Scotland in September 2018. We brought all the game like rabbit and grouse that we shot back to cook in London. With what we’ve hunted, I made game liver mousse on toast and grouse buns to be eaten with butter and pickles. I’ve never done something like that before; it was such an adrenaline-filled weekend. Also, to cook with what you hunt yourself was creatively satisfying.
9) Apart from food, what do you look for in your trips?
– Five restaurants where everyone should eat at least once.
Noma in Copenhagen, Etxebarri in Atxondo, Tickets Bar in Barcelona, Tenryuji Shigetsu in Kyoto, New Punjab Club in Hong Kong
– Favourite dish.
Rosio Sanchez’s Potato & Plums dessert at Noma
– Suitcase essentials.
Exercise shoes (in hope that I would also workout on my trip).
– Your next trip is to…
– Favourite souvenir.
Rye Bread from Scandinavia
Lubna Amir travels in the search for happy places (which invariably involve a beach) and good food. When she’s not planning her next escape, you can find her curled up with a book or researching recipes.