In November 2018, she became the first Indian woman to be awarded a Michelin star. Four months later, the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef came her way. We talked to Garima Arora about Gaa’s success, her comfort food, and travel adventures. By Rashima Nagpal
“Stubborn, determined and modern.” This is how Garima Arora describes herself. A brief conversation with the brain behind Bangkok’s one-Michelin star restaurant Gaa explains why.
Since I spoke to Arora just days after her recent accolade of Asia’s Best Female Chef, as declared by the World’s 50 Best Academy, I began with a congratulations. She received it without brouhaha but added that she did not see the award coming. She’s also not a big fan of having separate categories for male and female chefs. “I’d like it more if there were no gender disparity,” she said.
Luck had little role to play in Arora’s young career. “I knew I wanted to have a restaurant of my own at 18,” the chef confessed. Post her formative years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Gordon Ramsay’s Verre in Dubai, Noma in Copenhagen, and ultimately, as the sous chef at Gaggan in Bangkok, she launched Gaa in April 2017. The chic restaurant serves her take on modern Indian cuisine with a Thai twist.
How does one of Asia’s best chefs start her day? Turns out Arora is a person of habit. “An egg-white omelette and a toast topped with avocado,” she said, has been her breakfast for six months now. Occasionally, she resorts to nachos and dosa for comfort. She has her favourites set in terms of local restaurants too — Enoteca, Roast and Bangkok Bold Kitchen.
Her insatiable palate has taken her places, 15 countries to be precise. Some of those have resulted in memorable culinary adventures. “I can never forget my first hotpot experience in Singapore some 15 years ago, the fish stew in Norway’s Tromsø, and the seafood menu at Noma earlier this year,” Arora told me. Copenhagen is her favourite culinary destination, though. “Especially for all the amazing bread and pastries. The cardamom bun at Hart Bageri alone is worth a visit!”
Arora’s last memorable trip was with her husband. “We celebrated our first anniversary earlier this year in Tromsø… We saw the Northern Lights on a full moon night. We were sitting in the middle of a frozen lake with a bonfire,” Arora recalled. The young chef also has a taste for adventure — her bucket list includes “climbing a frozen waterfall.” Despite the windfall of fame, Arora confessed that not much has changed for her back in Bangkok. “I still go into the kitchen and work alongside my team every day.”