Mumbai chef earns Bangkok restaurant Michelin star

Updated: Nov 15, 2018, 16:10 IST | Phorum Dala | Mumbai

Garima Arora is the first Indian woman to achieve this feat; under her, GAA has made it to the Michelin Guide within one-and-a-half years of opening

Garima Arora had started as a journalist in Mumbai, until life took her in a different direction
Garima Arora had started as a journalist in Mumbai, until life took her in a different direction

It was a celebration of several firsts for Mumbai chef Garima Arora, 31, under whom GAA in Bangkok earned its first Michelin star yesterday. Not only is this the maiden star for the restaurant and Arora's career, but it also makes her the first Indian woman to be part of the honour. GAA got its maiden star at a ceremony in Bangkok on Wednesday morning, within a year-and-a-half of its opening on April 1 last year. Meanwhile, 3,000 km away, the news sent a wave of jubilation across culinary circles in India.

The fine-dine restaurant has a menu that explores a connection between India and Thailand, using techniques and flavours from both countries. Arora had originally gone to Bangkok for a different purpose. "I had moved to Bangkok to spend six months in Gaggan's [Indian chef Gaggan Anand] kitchen as I was supposed to head his Mumbai outpost. When that deal fell through, the same owners decided they wanted to open another restaurant in Bangkok. Everything happens for the good," said Arora, who had started out as a journalist in Mumbai, before life took her in a completely unforeseen direction.

GAA is the first restaurant led by an Indian woman chef that has got the coveted accolade
GAA is the first restaurant led by an Indian woman chef that has got the coveted accolade

Called her dad first
The call about the news came last week, followed by an email, when Arora was in the middle of a wine-pairing tasting with her team. "The official on the phone informed me that the restaurant is part of the Michelin Guide. I was in the company of my sous chef, my PR personnel and manager. It was a pleasant surprise," says Arora. Who was the first person she called? "M y father. He has influenced my cooking," says the 31-year-old chef, who grew up in Vashi, and was a student of Jai Hind College.

"My father travelled a lot, and every time he returned from abroad, he would cook exotic dishes. Watching him was magical. At the age of seven, I wondered how he put apples in a cake tart!" But, Arora didn't always enjoy cooking: "When my mother learnt of the award, she said, 'I am surprised you have won a Michelin. You never entered the kitchen when
growing up!'"

Late start
After Arora graduated from college, and before she started working as a journalist at an Indian daily, she took off on a trip with her friend. "We went to Singapore, and on returning, I did exactly what my father did: cook. I gathered all my friends and served them the classic hot pot," says Arora. This was the turning point, and within six months of her job as a reporter, she got through Le Cordon Bleu Paris. She was 21. It has been 11 years since Arora took up cooking. She has previously worked at Noma under René Redzepi, beginning as an intern in 2013, and going up the ladder to become Chef De Partie for two-and-a-half years.

"Under Rene, I learnt how to think about food. He focused on clearly formulating how your food is going to look. Cooking, he said, was an intellectual exercise, not a blue-collar job," said Arora. Today, she lives 10 minutes from GAA, and spends most of her waking hours there. "I only go home to sleep. I wonder why. I should move in," she jokes. Asked about chefs giving up their stars under pressure, Arora admitted, it has instilled in her the confidence that she and the team are on the right track. "Ninety per cent of my staff is the same since we opened. So, this [the honour] is for all of us and hopefully, we will only get better."

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