Mumbai chef earns GAA Michelin star

Nov 14, 2018, 09:55 IST | Phorum Dalal

Bangkok-based fine dine restaurant GAA makes it to Michelin Guide under chef Garima Arora within one-and-a-half-years of opening

Mumbai chef earns GAA Michelin star
Chef Garima Arora

Within a year-and-a-half of opening, GAA in Bangkok, headed by Mumbai chef Garima Arora, has found its way into the Michelin Guide.

The fine-dine restaurant that opened on April 1 last year, has a menu that explores a connection between India and Thailand, using techniques and flavours from both countries. On Wednesday morning, at a ceremony held in Bangkok, GAA earned 1 star.

Sweet betel leaf
Sweet betel leaf

“I had moved to Bangkok to spend six months in Gaggan’s [Indian chef Gaggan Anand] kitchen since 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,” Arora tells mid-day in an interview. She has previously worked at Noma under René Redzepi, beginning as an intern and rising the ladder to become Chef De Partie for two-and-a-half years.

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.

The interiors of GAA, which made it to the Michelin Guide. The announcement was made at the MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2019 Star Revelation and Gala Dinner at the Park Hyatt Bangkok
The interiors of GAA, which made it to the Michelin Guide. The announcement was made at the MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2019 Star Revelation and Gala Dinner at the Park Hyatt Bangkok

Who was the first person she called? “My father. He has influenced my cooking,” says the 31-year-old chef, who grew up in Vashi, 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! 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!’”

After Arora graduated from college, and before she joined her job as a journalist at The Indian Express, 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.

In 2013, she went to Copenhagen as an intern. “Under Rene [Noma], 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,” says Arora.

Today, she lives 10 minutes from the restaurant and spends most of her waking hours there. “I only go home to sleep. I wonder why. I should move in,” she jokes, describing a typical day at work. In between, 10 am and noon, when the food trucks are coming in and prep is underway, the team of
12 cook till 5 pm, after which they sit for a staff meal prepared by one member of the team, including her, on rotation. “At 6 pm service begins, and this is how it is seven days a week.”
When we ask her about chefs giving up their stars under pressure, Arora admits, 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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