Garima Arora’s Gaa wins a Michelin star
Former Noma chef becomes the first Indian female to helm a Michelin-starred restaurant
Thirty two-year-old Garima Arora’s culinary trajectory has been the thing that most chefs dream of. In the last ten years of her career she has worked in some of the most creative and high-octane professional kitchens in the world. Whether it was as an entry-level chef in Gordon Ramsay’s now shuttered Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek or chef de partie in René Redzepi’s magic kitchen-lab at Noma in Copenhagen or matching Gaggan Anand’s creative vision at Gaggan, Garima Arora has moved from strength to strength. She opened her own restaurant Gaa in Bangkok in 2017 and in the 15 months since its opening has managed to get its first Michelin star, making Arora the first Indian woman to helm a Michelin-awarded restaurant.
This is a long journey indeed for this one time Mumbai-based journalist who started off her journey in food with early experiments in her home kitchen. “I was a tomboy and the only time I would be excited about entering the kitchen was when my dad would cook. In our house there was this rule that lunch was always Indian food while dinner was some kind of international cuisine that my dad would make as he would travel abroad a lot and so as a 10-year-old girl, I ate everything from Italian, Mexican to Middle-eastern food," says Arora.
This enthusiasm carried through all the way to Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, through her training with legendary chefs at award-winning restaurants around the world. “My formative years were spent at Noma and that’s where I learnt the most. The biggest takeaway from this was to think intellectually about food and to understand ingredients better. I also learnt that cooking itself was a cerebral and mentally stimulating experience rather than just a physical job," says Arora.
This learning has stayed with her and has translated into her vision of food at her restaurant Gaa. Here, there is a spotlight on local ingredients, techniques from around the world and an Indian touch. The restaurant serves a set menu and interestingly enough, many of the star dishes are centered around vegetables rather than meat. “I draw inspiration from both India and Thailand but also from my travels and experience of cooking in other countries and cultures," she says. She admits that while she wouldn’t call herself an Indian cook as her training has been in western cuisine, her heritage does play into her food. “Using Indian techniques is a better way of exploring how we eat rather than simply deconstructing an Indian dish. As Indians we have mastered the art of being able to draw all the umami flavours from vegetables. So for me cooking with vegetables is one of the ways in which I incorporate the Indian element in my food," she adds.
Simplicity and elegance defines the menu at Gaa and she lists “Corn" as among her restaurant’s signature dishes—it is a simple creation that uses thin slices of bhutta (corn) served with corn milk on the side. When asked how life changes for the chef after winning a Michelin star, she responds with a quick, “I sure hope we get busier" but apart from that she hopes to continue making the kind of food she loves and believes in.