Explore the genius behind his unorthodox creations as he playfully challenges conventions, leaving diners captivated by the delightful and unexpected twists that define his unique culinary narrative.
Meet Gaggan Anand, a rebellious chef of our time. His life story, dominating Asia's 50 best restaurants for years, is also featured on Netflix's "Chef's Table." Chef Gaggan, known for pushing the boundaries of gastronomy with his creativity and audacity, is as polarizing as he is renowned. His 20-course menu, born from a reinterpretation of India's culinary heritage using molecular cooking and modern perspectives, captivated the world from its debut. The "chef's table" serves as his small stage, where the menu, filled with ingredients and emoticons, is designed to evoke emotions, challenging diners to experience the dish without traditional utensils. Quite the eccentric character.
While his unconventional ideas have garnered criticism, Gaggan remains a "famous" chef who defies convention. He may chase the spotlight, openly share his post-divorce romance with a model, and showcase his culinary prowess with unconventional dishes that defy tradition. However, in my decade of culinary experience, I see things differently. Without his unwavering dedication to cooking, the glamour and sparkle surrounding him would not have endured. Gaggan is the one who not only captures Indian culture but also crafts narratives, turning meals into holistic experiences beyond mere "food consumption."
Now, let me share the post-COVID-19 chapter of Gaggan's story in Bangkok. Having visited twice in past 1 year, I can delve into more details.
The restaurant 'Gaggan,' born in 2010 in a traditional Thai house, underwent a transformation over the years. My initial visit nine years ago showcased 'Interesting Indian Dining' with molecular cooking techniques applied to various dishes from Lassi to Curry. Fast forward seven years, and my experience at Gaggan was different. Despite being in the same restaurant, we sat at the 'chef's table' on the second floor, surrounded by gourmet journalists from around the world. Reflecting on it now, I realize this was the birth of the current version of the prototype. While it's not uncommon for diners to gather around an open kitchen bar, Gaggan elevated the experience by synchronizing the menu and theatrical explanations with the meal, using emoticons instead of traditional alphabet characters!
New Gaggan: 2023 and after
In 2023, the world bid farewell to the COVID-19 era, and revisiting Gaggan revealed another quantum leap. Let me cut to the chase—I dined at the new Gaggan and was blown away, dispelling any doubts about the chef's abilities or public evaluations. Gaggan is a "sparadox," a term that might be used to label him a quirky individual, but one thing is certain: he operates on a "different level," earning him the status of a legendary maverick!
The new Gaggan, unveiled in 2023, is housed in a standalone building, creating an atmosphere distinct from its predecessor. While the previous setting felt like a mansion, this time it exudes a mysterious charm, reminiscent of a dungeon adorned with vines. The establishment utilizes only the first floor, devoid of traditional tables or rooms. Instead, it resembles a dimly lit small theater stage, with a spotlight drawing attention to the center and a bar for patrons to observe.
The cost of the experience is 12,000 Baht, covering both the meal and the pairing. It amounts to approximately 450 USD. Though this pricing may be reasonable compared to dining costs in Seoul or in other metropolitan cities, it stands out as notably high in Bangkok. This might be attributed to the fact that 80% of the restaurant's clientele comprises foreigners. It seems plausible, considering Gaggan's longstanding aspiration to showcase his stage and dreams to the global audience. Ultimately, customer demographics play a significant role in shaping one's perception of value.
The dining experience at the new Gaggan resembles a flawless “performance”, quite literally. The show always commences punctually, mirroring the uninterrupted nature of the meal, even when patrons briefly step away. Gaggan orchestrates every aspect, taking the lead in guiding the diners.
This performance, akin to a meticulously crafted meal, unfolds in three distinct parts. The interplay of lighting, sound, and Gaggan's storytelling and culinary skills adds a captivating dimension to the experience. The initial part showcases dishes accompanied by Gaggan's charismatic narrative, sans any musical accompaniment.
Part I : Gaggan’s Story
Upon taking your seat, instead of a traditional showplate, you're greeted by pottery featuring various facial expressions. My assigned seat appears surprised, boasting a broad smile on one side and a subtle frown on the other. "Today, you're going to traverse through a myriad of emotions," Gaggan declares. Skeptical, I wondered what could possibly prompt a frown during a meal!
The journey begins with the signature dish, "Yogurt Explosion," a modern reinterpretation of the abundant use of la seeds in India. However, Gaggan's touch makes it extraordinary. The yogurt gel bursts in your mouth, offering a soft, refreshing sensation, accompanied by a sparkling effect that tantalizes the taste buds.
Crafted with Indian spices and an array of ingredients, the bite-sized delicacies transport diners to the heart of India, momentarily escaping the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Amidst the absence of background music, Gaggan narrates his story, unraveling the complexity of the culinary process and detailing the ingredients involved.
Street to Table, Street Rat of Sukhumvit
Then comes a surprising revelation. Gaggan articulates, "So, guys, with this menu, we're dreaming about another innovation in gastronomy." He shares a seemingly outrageous tale of sourcing extremely local ingredients. The team supposedly roams the streets of Sukhumvit, catching mice, feeding them corn, and eventually preparing their brains as a culinary delicacy. YUCK! While the story is far-fetched – the size of the mouse's brain pushing the boundaries of believability – it turns out to be a clever fabrication. Nevertheless, the discomfort and queasiness are real, proving the power of food to evoke intense and distinct emotions.
The culinary journey continues with an elaborate asparagus dish, narrated with the story of asparagus rising through the ground. This creation marvelously captures the crisp, square texture of the meringue and the invigorating energy of the asparagus. But the surprise doesn't end there. Upon digging in, another dish symbolizing the earth emerges, reminiscent of digging potatoes in a field.
Gaggan's culinary innovation extends from a reinterpretation of Indian street food to a "cappuccino" Mont Blanc, featuring cool melon sorbet and savory caviar. The menu showcases a variety of original dishes that transcend traditional boundaries of taste and aroma. Even seemingly unconventional combinations like strawberry and uni from the previous season's melon and caviar prove surprisingly delightful. Anyone can embrace eccentricity, but Gaggan stands out by transforming it into a true culinary masterpiece.
Part II : The Empire of Music, Intense Emotion, and Senses
Part 2 unfolds with a captivating musical backdrop that fills the space akin to a concert hall, enhancing the dining experience with each course accompanied by a change in music.
Returning to the curious theme of rats, Gaggan takes a bold step, revealing a juicer that seems more like a silver torture device under the pin light. Remaining true to the narrative, the restaurant extracts the essence from the gutter rat, salting it to create a unique drink. As Gaggan sprinkles red powder on top, the scene resembles a ritual, evoking a sense of bewilderment and unease.
The unconventional lighting takes center stage as they mention sprinkling radioactive sauce on "Roasted Rat Meat Skewers," illuminated by blue light and fluorescent sauce. Despite the name, the dish features vegetables, combining the blue light, fluorescent sauce, and the team members' eyes to craft a visually stunning creation.
Amidst the rhythmic beats of the music, various dishes continue to captivate.
Embracing the idea that the most primal form of cooking is roasting, the lights are extinguished as a grilled quail is presented on red-blinking charcoal. As the darkness heightens the senses, the warm taste of quail legs, reminiscent of primitive cooking and the aroma of charcoal, rekindles a sense of awe for forgotten flavors.
Next up is the "Dan Shrimp cooked in the cold air." Chef Gaggan employs a unique cooking method, utilizing both heat and the cold air of liquid nitrogen. The dish features the chef's favorite ice cream—vanilla with a chocolate-covered magnum—transformed into a creative interpretation with a thin layer of sauce on the dan shrimp.
Taking a nostalgic journey back to Gaggan's childhood, the exploration questions if rice is indeed the ultimate conclusion of Asian cuisine. Cooked rice, prepared in individual ceramics with age and infused with a myriad of spices, embodies a rich tapestry of flavor and sentiment. The culinary adventure continues, pushing boundaries and evoking emotions through a symphony of taste, visuals, and sounds.
Part III : Ecstacy
Entering the final and third part, it's reminiscent of K-pop star - Psy's song lyrics, "You scream, you go crazy about music, you enjoy life, you're the champion!" The culmination of 22 captivating performances leads to a collective moment of "singing-together," a shared enjoyment. As desserts arrive, the ambiance transforms, cycling through colors from red to blue, green, and back to red, uniting individuals under a spectrum of emotions. Despite originating from various countries and joining for diverse reasons, the 14 diners now feel connected as one heart. Be it a birthday or a special anniversary, celebrations are embraced collectively, creating an unspoken harmony among the group.
Guided by music, the meal's pinnacle is reached when it becomes socially acceptable to lick your plate—an act universally understood as a testament to the exceptional taste. Gaggan's mischievous creativity, prompting guests to indulge in plate-licking, fosters a shared experience that extends beyond the culinary realm. It's a testament to Gaggan's intentional design, making his restaurant a space where relationships develop organically, and each encounter leaves a lasting impression. It's a kind of culinary madness!
The meal concludes with a symbolic gesture, as everyone involved—both those who prepared and experienced the meal—joins hands against the backdrop of music. In Gaggan's own words, the journey through his restaurant in Bangkok is an invitation: "If you have the chance, don't you really want to go?" It's an invitation to not just taste the food but to immerse oneself in an experience that transcends the ordinary—a testament to the extraordinary world that Gaggan has crafted.
“…with my rebels we have built a place where we will do our best to give you a memory of a lifetime. A memory of happiness from a restaurant created as an act of Love.”