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Gaggan Anand’s second innings



You are probably well-versed with the story of Gaggan Anand, part of which was dramatized in a popular episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, which went on to be nominated for an Emmy award.

If not, an abbreviated version would go something like this: A young rebellious cook is fed up of working in hotels in India. Disillusioned by the lack of autonomy, he leaves India without much money and lands in Bangkok to start a new life. He is discovered while working as a junior chef at an Indian restaurant in Bangkok and offered an opportunity to open his own restaurant. Months before opening, he enrols himself in a culinary course run by El Bulli in Spain.

Inspired by what he has learnt during his time training under chef brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià in Spain, he returns to Bangkok and experiments, applying some of their scientific methods to Indian cuisine. His experiment works. Not only does Gaggan go on to become the most celebrated Indian chef (awarded two Michelin stars and topping the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four years in a row), he pioneers the modern Indian restaurant revolution. It all seems to be going well; the restaurant was ranked the fourth best in the world earlier this year.

But in 2016, six years after he starts his restaurant, a sudden announcement on social media shocks the culinary world: “I’m going to relocate to Japan in 2020. In Japan, I’ll have a 10-seater restaurant, open only on weekends. I want to do something that has never been done and I want to be there.” The announcement receives a mixed response, with some terming it a marketing ploy. But Gaggan doesn’t waver. “In 2020, it will be 10 years of the restaurant in Bangkok and it is good to quit when you are on the top,” he proclaims.

As expected, the announcement creates a flurry of excitement and gourmands from around the globe start flying in to Bangkok (leading to a six-month waiting list at the restaurant). Some of the world’s greatest chefs, like Massimo Bottura and Mauro Colagreco, fly in to collaborate with him.

In June, there is yet another announcement from the chef: “I resigned as chef of Gaggan restaurant, effective 24 June 2019.” The radical decision comes after months of heated disagreements with his former partners and a messy legal battle ensues. There are further resignations and 65 (of the total 68) staff members stage an abrupt walk-out. With no hope of reconciliation, the famed restaurant shuts down on 24 August, a year before its intended closure. But Gaggan promises he will be back. “The end of Gaggan is the beginning of a new era. Hope to see you all in my new venture,” he signs off.

On 1 November, just about two months later, Gaggan is back. The new restaurant opens its doors in Bangkok’s bustling Sukhumvit Soi 31, with the same team of 65 chefs, servers and sommeliers (whom he refers to as his “rebels”). The restaurant is now called Gaggan Anand and uses the chef’s full name because his former partners say they own the licence and trademark to the name “Gaggan”.

Earlier this week, I found myself in Bangkok and visited Gaggan’s new restaurant for dinner, just three days after its much awaited opening. “In the two months that we were closed, we had lots of time to think. We went through every aspect of the dining experience and found ways to improve each area,” shared Gaggan, as he addressed the 14 of us seated in his new interactive area on the ground floor, called G’s Spot.

And it seems to have worked. The new restaurant is larger and is located in a three-storeyed old home, adorned with plants and greenery. The restaurant is more modern and hip.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is a pink neon LED sign that reads, “Be a Rebel”. Behind it is a freshly installed, state-of-the-art kitchen, fitted with avant-garde equipment like a long-wave oven (an advancement on the microwave). There is also an alfresco bar area, which Gaggan believes will encourage cocktail innovation. And servers wear chic monochrome uniforms designed by a trendy Thai designer.

Gaggan looks trimmer. “I have lost 5kg in two months. Starting a restaurant at 40 is not as easy as starting at 30,” he laughs. Gaggan’s new partner in the restaurant is his wife, Pui, and he credits her for the record-time turnaround: “I could not have done this without her. She has designed and built this restaurant single-handedly and allowed me to focus on the food.”

The food is different: edgier, but just as delicious. The restaurant does not have a food menu and the dishes you eat don’t have names. “You can call the dishes whatever you want,” Gaggan informs the guests. The 25-course meal starts with a new rendition of perhaps his most famous dish, the “yogurt explosion”, but everything that follows is new. The big hits are experimental dishes like uni (sea urchin) served with baingan, a savoury white truffle ghewar, a mushroom and morel pulao with Irani berries and a white chocolate shell filled with tangy pani-puri liquid. Even the desserts are original, the standout being an assortment of ice creams with ostensibly illogical flavours, like “miso-oreo”, “wasabi-pear”, “caramel-carrot” and “coffee-beetroot”, that somehow all seem to work.

As we reach the end of the night, Gaggan introduces each member of his team to loud applause from guests and then makes an emotional speech: “Thank you for giving me your love and letting me feed you with my madness. I am not moving to Japan any more and this is my future for the next 10 years with my rebels.”

The meal ends in quintessential Gaggan fashion, with blaring rock music and tipsy dancing. For a moment, it seems like the scars have healed and Gaggan has moved on, accepting the challenge to create an even better restaurant.

Time will tell if he will win back his stars and rankings, but the Gaggan story will continue.

Raaj Sanghvi is the co-founder of luxury advisory firm Sanguine and director of Culinary Culture India.

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