Meet chef Garima Arora, the first Indian woman chef with a Michelin star restaurant

Meet chef Garima Arora, the first Indian woman chef with a Michelin star restaurant

By Karo Christine Kumar
  • Published 15.11.18, 11:50 PM
  • Updated 15.11.18, 11:50 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Garima Arora Agency picture

She’s the first Indian woman chef helming a restaurant that has been awarded a Michelin star. A chat with Garima Arora, the reason why people go gaga over Gaa, in Bangkok.

The first thoughts that came to your mind when Gaa won a Michelin star…

It’s still taking time to sink in. It’s a bigger achievement for the team than me. We opened Gaa just one-and-a-half years ago in Bangkok and we’re so happy to have achieved this. We didn’t expect to win.

Were there other restaurants helmed by women competing with you?

Yes, there were three other restaurants helmed by women chefs. I was the only Indian woman.

What is your earliest memory of Mumbai where you grew up?

I have memories of growing up with my dad who would travel and then cook these amazing things for us. He would make a tarte tatin, an upside-down pastry, and as I talk about it now, I can taste it all over again.

Your first proper job was at Gordon Ramsay’s Verre in Dubai. Even though you never met him, how did it help you?

The experience prepped me for the years ahead. It was the right restaurant to start with, the perfect choice, because it was a very tough kitchen to be in!

You worked in Noma in Copenhagen as chef de partie from 2013 to 2016. What was your biggest takeaway?

My years at Noma not only helped to shape me and my skills, but also influenced my ideology of cooking. The opportunity came at the right time.

After Noma, you moved to Bangkok. But there was talk of you opening a restaurant in India first?

The idea was for me to move from Copenhagen to Mumbai. Common friends connected me with Gaggan Anand, who was looking for a head chef for a restaurant in Mumbai, but that project fell through. So instead he asked me to join Gaggan’s in Bangkok, where I spent six months.

Gaa in Bangkok offers a choice of 10- and 14-course tasting menus which are changed quarterly to reflect seasonal specialties.
Gaa in Bangkok offers a choice of 10- and 14-course tasting menus which are changed quarterly to reflect seasonal specialties. Agency picture

How was your experience at Gaggan’s?

It’s the first time I was working in Asia and everyone in his kitchen was so friendly. I learnt a lot from the six months I worked there but most of all I learnt about the amazing Asian hospitality. That is my biggest takeaway… how welcoming and warm they are.

And then you opened Gaa, your own venture, that serves modern eclectic cuisine. How did you fund it?

I always dreamt of having my own space. Gaa has four investors.

What do you do when you’re not running Gaa?

Honestly, I have time for nothing else. When you’re running a restaurant, it takes up all your time. I haven’t had the chance to read, or watch Netflix or even go on Instagram to look up dog pictures. I really, really wish I could keep a dog.

“Time for all of us to sing Sa Re Gaaaa!” chef Gaggan Anand told t2
“Time for all of us to sing Sa Re Gaaaa!” chef Gaggan Anand told t2 Agency picture

Tell us about two trends in the food industry now…

There’s this whole trend of eating locally. People are conscious of where their food is coming from and there’s more thought on what’s going into the food, which is positive. Another trend is natural wine.

The last restaurant you ate at…

Suhring (a contemporary European restaurant in Bangkok). It was elevated to a two-star rating after it was lauded with one star last year.

What are your future plans?

Keep doing what we’re doing! I think we’re moving in the right direction.

Will you open more restaurants?

Not as of now. I plan to concentrate on Gaa to make sure everything is consistent and as best as it can get.

How are you celebrating the win?

The team and I… we’re going to have a little party. We’re super excited.

And how many times has your phone rung since the announcement was made?

Non-stop! In the time that we’ve been speaking, I’ve got seven missed calls.

Pork Rib topped with Coriander, Shallots and Pomegranate
Pork Rib topped with Coriander, Shallots and Pomegranate Agency picture

Fact file

Age: 32

Birthday: November 9

Previously worked at: Verre, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, Noma and Gaggan’s.

Signature dishes at Gaa: Grilled Corn and Corn Milk; Pork Rib topped with Coriander, Shallots and Pomegranate; Chicken Liver Mousse and Cauliflower with Caramelised Whey.

Three spices she can’t do without in her kitchen: Black salt, fish sauce and ghee.

Song she’s hooked to: Khali bali. 

Grilled Corn and Corn Milk
Grilled Corn and Corn Milk Agency picture