Chef Garima Arora: 'Making Food Trends, Not Following Them'

Jenn Greenleaf

Though Garima Arora didn’t launch Gaa, her famed Bangkok restaurant, until April 2017, she always knew cooking would play an important role in her life. She attributes this in part to her Punjabi family, particularly her father. She first began cooking in earnest at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 2010, when she was 21.

These first steps on the road to becoming the acclaimed chef she is today were far from smooth. "It was nothing like I expected it to be. It was a lot of donkey-work," she explained to BBC News' Nikita Mandhani. "But I just wanted to be there so much, and I learnt to cope up and made my way through." After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, Arora went on to work at Paris (Le Quartier du Pain), Dubai (Verre by Gordon Ramsey), and Copenhagen, where she worked at Noma. 

Those such experience was essential to her success, it took a trip to Singapore to remind her of food’s power to draw people together. Once back in India, she gathered her family together and cooked them a big hot pot. As Arora explained to Glynda Alves of The Economic Times, the experience was so much fun that she realized that “what I really wanted to do was talk to people through the medium of food.”

In November 2018, after being open for less than two years, Gaa earned a Michelin star. Arora became the first Indian woman to receive such an honor. In its review, Michelin described Gaa’s approach as “Modern eclectic cuisine that blends traditional cooking and innovative techniques,” transforming “locally sourced ingredients . . . into something unexpected.” The awards have continued: earlier this year, she was named Asia's Best Female Chef for 2019 by the World's 50 Best Restaurants. 

"[Indians] are a population of one billion with food culture that is centuries old," Arora explained in an email to CNN's Channon Hodge. "In my opinion, we should be making food trends, not following them. The best chefs and restaurants of the world should be from India."

Gaa's extensive tasting menu of signature dishes reveals many influences, with one course simply labeled  "corn," and another combining homemade pickles, roti, and unripe jackfruit. “I always ask the questions why and how," Arora told the Vogue writer Prachi Joshi. "It's not what you put in a dish, but why you put it in and how you choose to put it in. This has always been my take on cooking. So yes, I do borrow from Indian techniques and flavours, but it's always about how it adds to elevate your dining experience.”