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Chef Garima Arora of Gaa shares stereotypes about Indian food



India’s first female Michelin-starred chef Garima Arora tells us all of the common stereotypes about Indian food.

Q: Congratulations on being the first Indian female chef to win a Michelin star. Running a restaurant can’t be easy. What is it that keeps you going?

A: I think I just love what I do. Nothing else really matters. Things always get tough. Sometimes they’re easy, and you get lucky, and sometimes you get unlucky. That’s just life. But what gets you through all of that is your need to do something great.

Q: Your father introduced you to food from around the world while growing up. Have your personal travels helped influence your food style too?

A: For me, travelling isn’t just travelling because I have lived in five different countries in the last decade, and culturally I brought a lot back from these places. All of that is reflected in my restaurant today. My food wouldn’t taste what it does today if I had left India and come straight to Bangkok.

Q: So, how would you describe the food at Gaa? What can one expect?

A: You can expect something that you’ve never tasted before. It’s going to be an experience that is completely new and completely different. Some like it, some don’t, but what everybody agrees on is that it is so different.

Q: Your tasting menus highlight many vegetarian ingredients, not a common thing with Michelin-star restaurants. Why is that?

A: I enjoy vegetarian food much more than I do meat. And no one can tell the difference— that’s the skill of a cook. What do you like when you eat meat? It’s not the flavour, because it doesn’t really taste of anything. What you like is the umami—the bite. A tomato cheese pizza will give you the same satisfaction as eating meat. The trick is to make your vegetables umami-rich and you’ll never miss the meat. So many people eat our jackfruit dish and don’t believe there’s no meat in it. You have to know what to do with your vegetables. And they’re so versatile. A chicken will always taste like chicken, but you can cook pumpkin in 50 ways and it will give you a completely different result each time.

Q: Have you borrowed any Indian cooking techniques in your food?

A: Because I am Indian, I do borrow heavily from such techniques. In Indian cuisine, we do a lot of pickling and fermentation, which are a big part of how we eat—right from working with cultures to lactic acid fermentation. Just how we make yoghurt is so amazing

Q: What are the misconceptions that people have about Indian food?

A: The biggest thing is that people think curry is from India. It’s extremely annoying. The second stereotype is that just because I’m Indian and a woman, they expect me to make typical Indian food. When we opened Gaa, and I served the kind of food I do, a lot of people just couldn’t understand it. They would say, “This is not Indian food.” And I would go, “Yes, I know—it’s not supposed to be. I never said I’m cooking Indian!” But these are stereotypes that one just has to fight. We can be trendsetters as well, we can invent stuff as well, and we can push avant-garde cuisine as well.

Q: It must be exciting for you to represent India on the world food map then.

A: I’m always proud of where I come from. However, I wish I didn’t have to leave it. I had to because it’s so difficult to do a business and open restaurants in India. If anything good comes out of this, I hope it’s a change in the right direction, just in terms of ease in doing business in our country.

Q: What is on the table next?

A: Well, you have to wait and watch. Of course, there is a new burst of energy and a lot of ideas are flowing. Let’s see which direction this all takes. I think a trip to India is definitely due.

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