Expect the extraordinary at Gaggan, the inventive Indian restaurant debuted by Kolkata-born chef and owner Gaggan Anand, which has put Indian food in the fine dining spotlight with his eponymous Bangkok restaurant and his playful approach to progressive Indian cuisine. In a city cluttered with myriad dining options from street hawkers to the world’s best-recognised engagements, all of them boasting of some of the most authentic and boldest flavours. This modern Indian fusion eatery has some of the most experienced food connoisseurs sit up and take notice, a waiting list that goes on for months and has culinary enthusiasts queuing up for hours in anticipation of the fabled ‘Progressive Indian Cuisine’.
For master chef Anand, who set out to transform traditional Indian food, this progressive path was necessary to change the face of Indian cuisine globally. And since setting up his first eatery eight years ago, ‘Gaggan’ has won countless accolades from being named the best on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List for three straight years to bagging the 7th rank on the World's Best list. Gaggan has contributed to the end of Eurocentric hegemony in fine dining by putting Bangkok on the world radar by creating a world-class dining destination at par with London and New York.
Gaggan himself is a passionate visionary, with his energy seemingly flowing over everything. He’s most often found in his kitchen laboratory tinkering with the traditional and experimenting with fusion, wearing protective glasses and wielding a blow torch as gases fume through. But when he’s not busy building explosive yogurt orbs and kombu-cured scallops, you might catch the chef enjoying street food, which he believes is the soul of our country. Anand’s culinary philosophy veers around the storytelling of food as a story, and not mere another fusion cuisine, giving his guests a experience and a moment in life with a good dish that seduces them to focus only on the gastronomy, forgetting about the music that is playing or the people that are around them.
He runs ‘Gaggan’ like an art house and not like a restaurant. At Gaggan, food has to be fun; it has to be art, science and emotions blended together. The chef always looks for a more whimsical touch, in all his dishes and cooking that emanate from a desire to reinvent the look, feel, texture and taste of Indian food. Anand’s metamorphosis from a restaurateur to a storyteller began with his food dalliances at El Bulli, the Mecca in Spain’s Girona town, where he interned under his mentor and guru, Ferran Adrià in 2010. It’s here Anand dominated the nuances of molecular gastronomy, the application of scientific methods and tools like liquid nitrogen for food development, and a evolved a vision to redefine traditional Indian cuisine while preserving authentic flavours. Later that year in December, the eponymous ‘Gaggan’ was born.
Today, at the far end of a quiet alley in Bangkok’s upscale Lumphini neighbourhood, the Kolkata-born culinary artist’s namesake restaurant stands majestically. The whitewashed Colonial-style wooden house in the depths of downtown Bangkok harbours a kitchen full of cooks from all nationalities and has blaring rock music on for inspiration, with occasional guitar jams by the Master Chef himself. At this little castle, Anand has created a world of fantasy and escapism. Since inception, Gaggan instantly revolutionised the way Indian food is crafted and perceived from the instantly food-freezing liquid nitrogen to sous vide – a technique where meats are slow cooked by vaccum sealing and hot water immersion to the use of maltodextrin to convert oils into powder.
The menu and the food-service are as avant-garde and artful as the chef’s vision with diners handed a 25-course tasting menu from the Progressive Indian Cuisine that has been dubbed the ‘Gaggan Experience’. It’s a one-page menu with no words, just emojis. Twenty three of the dishes are to be eaten by hand. Each of the 25 courses employs a different technique of molecular gastronomy and has a different texture. The menu also allows a 'Taste of Gaggan' each consisting of over 10 courses. The lucky diners who get to be seated at the ‘Chef’s table’, also enjoy a kitchen-view through the see-through glass, with the sights of fuming liquid nitrogen or smoked meats adding to the theatrics.
The food experience at Gaggan keeps you guessing for what’s next, with all senses on high alert, as one after the other the dishes start getting served at a rapid trot. You’ll find your palate tapping into memories of Indian flavours as dishes are explained while they are served – dishes which look unfamiliar, yet taste familiar. As the flavours burst in the mouth, each course has a different taste, temperature and visual, yet underneath it all, ties back to the same familiar Indian zest.
This multi-course meal is served in over three hours with a lot of flamboyance and flair, staged to draw in all your senses. The dim lights complement the burning cedar woods, while a matching background score, an all-consuming aroma and a hypnotic fire, amp up the drama and then arrives the food. Hot prawn heads stuffed with cold deliciousness, edible wrappers, black snapper-balls coated with charcoal powder, lime-caviar reminiscent of nimboo-achar, chocolate balls squirting pani-puri water, the cream-whipper with mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen inside an edible-balloon, which explodes in your mouth and many more. There is innovation here, daring and cool.
Once all the courses have been served, diners get a menu with words to let them know what they’ve just consumed. Anand views this menu as a way to transcend language barriers. The ‘Gaggan’ shuts down in 2020. Anand who hates to be predictable, prefers to leave on the top but only to raise the bar higher with an ultra-exclusive weekend-only, 10-seater upcoming restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan, where patrons can savour comfort food.
Gaggan plans to create ‘the future of fine-dining’ by taking hyper-personalisation to the next level with personalised menus and guests required to fill in a detailed questionnaire while making reservations, including their most-loved and most-hated vegetables. While Anand plans to draw on Buddhist principles to challenge his cuisine ideology to create the new menu, which will bring out the Zen of food minimalism, the demands for reservations are already rising a mile high, for what might soon grow into the Most Elusive Restaurant in the world.