‘Indian cuisine would never be westernised’: Chef Gaggan Anand

This story was originally published in TravelDine India by Vernika Awal.

A heart-on-the-sleeve speaker who also happens to be one of India’s most immediately recognisable chefs around the world, Chef Gaggan Anand tells Traveldine about how food is like music, his unmissable food destination in Mumbai, and how Indian food will never move away from its roots.

Gaggan anand
Chef Gaggan Anand at his restaurant in Bangkok where the theatrics of gastronomy plays out. Image: Gaggan Anand.

In 2016, Chef’s Table, the much-loved Netflix series on food, brought to our homes a certain restaurant — and its chef — from Bangkok. Instead of a venture serving Thai cuisine, though, the restaurant served true, honest food from India and its hinterlands. Already-popular chef Gaggan Anand quickly became a flagbearer of portraying our cuisine in some of its most earnest forms. Now in Delhi for showcasing his ‘residency’ — a programme where the entire restaurant, including its staff, move to Anand’s months-long stay at The Hyatt Regency, Delhi — the chef tells us how he views evolution in India’s cuisine and palates, how the consistency of food at restaurants can be likened to music, and the one place he never skips eating at, when in Mumbai. Edited excerpts.

On choosing India as his latest food adventure destination:

Indians are way more well-travelled and well-versed (than before), and understand that chefs have their space and creativity to challenge the boundaries of cooking. Fine dining, too, is in trend in India, and I would love to serve the people of my country.

India is home, and I always wanted to come back to do something here. After a very successful nine-month residency in Singapore post the pandemic, we knew that India was on the cards. Now, here we are — with a 20-day residency at Hyatt Regency, Delhi.

On what the word ‘progressive’ means in India’s cuisines:

We were very sure that our cuisine would never be westernised. We wanted to stay true to our Indian roots, which had given us a strong foundation. We focused on taste marrying texture, and our food always retained a distinct ‘Indianness’. That, for me, helped us progress.

Being progressive is not about opening a dozen branches, or participating in food shows. For me, it’s about authenticity and staying consistent, and the belief that you are keeping your customers’ choices primary.

On three key things that have changed or evolved, since he started cooking:

First, the chefs and their immense talent in the kitchen. Second, it will have to be the well-travelled customer, who is not afraid to try the most exotic of cuisines at the best restaurants. Finally, the surge of social media that captures everything we plate. Today, the camera definitely eats first.

On reinventing and recreating an established menu, over the years:

It’s like music — you can’t live or rely on one major hit, and expect it to work for you for decades. Even in food, we are constantly experimenting with ingredients, brainstorming on new ideas, inspirations and innovations — making sure that the balance of our greatest hits gives comfort to our fans.

On his food philosophy:

I have never worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or even at fine-dining European restaurants. I learned cooking from the maharajs, the ‘great’ cooks, street food vendors, and picked up techniques from El Bulli labs. This gives a unique edge to what I do. I have no place to refer to — I just do what I think will please the palate and the eye.

On catering to evolving food palates:

It has evolved, for sure. However, a few things are staple and should not — or rather, must not — change at all. Don’t be surprised if we serve you simple dalphulka as our last course at our residency programme here. There will definitely be a few surprises, which will change perspectives about global cuisines. My team and I believe in protecting our cuisine from getting diluted.

On his top three food experiences in India:

Chandni Chowk street food rhapsody in Delhi, Bengali food in Kolkata at ITC Sonar, and Swati Snacks in Mumbai — which I cannot live without whenever I’m there.

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