Gaggan: our restaurants will change, but let’s improve ourselves first

"In the past 10 years I’ve worked like a dog. Fame and money made us worst". Interview with the popular Indian chef

23-04-2020
Gaggan Anand, 42, from Calcutta, India. Since Nov

Gaggan Anand, 42, from Calcutta, India. Since November 2019 he’s at the helm of restaurant Gaggan Anand in Bangkok, Thailand

At this time, as they have said, almost all the best restaurants around the world are closed due to the emergency. Gaggan Anand is a popular Indian chef and entrepreneur, since 2007 at work in Bangkok, Thailand. His first restaurant, Gaggan, two Michelin stars, was voted best restaurant in Asia for 4 years in a row (2015-2018) by Asia’s 50 Best. Because of disagreements with the other partners, in August 2019 he closed that important chapter. And on the 1st of November, last year, he opened another one, called Gaggan Anand, also in Bangkok. Soon after that, the global crisis arrived.

How are you, Gaggan?
I’m happy. I played the drums, and then I washed my hands for an hour. For the past five days I’ve been drumming and cooking in turns. I’m writing. I feel I’m better. Without this break, my life would be much more toxic. I have learnt to be humbler, to be my true self. I have learnt that I used to be a perfect asshole, with a rock star attitude. 

Why "toxic"?
I’ve realised that in the past 10 years I’ve worked like a dog. Like a dog [he repeats twice], each day. Take that, cook this, get on a plane, prepare here, fry there. Now that I’ve been at home for almost two months, I’m thinking of what I should and should not do. Working a lot has given us fame and money, but it has made us worse people because you’d get angry for nothing, you started hating clients, hating everyone. The emergency helps us reflect first of all on ourselves.

In November you opened your new restaurant. How were things going?
Very well, it was always fully booked. To book a table you had to wait 2 or 3 months. Then, in February, news of Covid-19 started to spread.

When did you close exactly, and when do you think you’ll open again?
We closed on the 18th March. In Thailand every day we have 25/30 new cases, with a total of some 2,840 cases [on April the 23rd there is a total of 50 deceased in the country]. We’re still not sure as to when we will open again: I think at the end of the month the measures will be relaxed. Realistically, it will be at the end of May. I will do so when everything will be under control: opening and closing again would be even worse.

The social table at restaurant Gaggan Anand

The social table at restaurant Gaggan Anand

On the stage of Identità Golose in 2018 (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

On the stage of Identità Golose in 2018 (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

What are your thoughts?
It’s crazy, but we must not blame people, the country, or the government: it’s the same everywhere around the world. It’s a problem for the entire humanity.

Does the Thai government support restaurateurs?
Not at all. The rule here is: I will help you only if you help yourself first. After all, I can’t depend on a government. I was not born to depend on a government. I don’t want to beg.

What will be the future of fine dining? Many of your colleagues say nothing will ever be the same.
I see two opposite possibilities: black and white, no nuance of grey. So either fine dining will return to be stronger than before, or it will disappear and we will return to comfort food. The latter is a very concrete risk because we can no longer have clients pay as much as before, and the space for socialising will be much smaller. Personally, I believe that, like with concerts, the show must go on but only if you do a concert with a full house. It has to be a very slow conscious journey, something that many of us have already started doing these days.

That is?
On social media we have all returned to cook simple food. Take Massimo Bottura, he was making tiramisu on Instagram. Would you have ever believed it? It’s as if Armani or Gucci started to design pyjamas. Even in my case, I’m only making chicken tikka masala at home. We’re all in an unplugged mode, we’re back to basic and this gives us serenity and safety because it shows us that we still know how to cook the classics to perfection. It’s an awareness that will bring even better food in our restaurants.

Ferran Adria, your first master, said: “The first thing will be serving a dish, not developing creativity”.
Of course. And it will have to be humble, tasty dishes. Imagine the first service after the quarantine. If you fuck it up, they will throw it back at you. But if you will make a person cry out of happiness, for them you’ll become the best cook in the world. Even if you made risotto, or a salad, or the simplest dish in the world. Of course, we will have to remove the ego from the dish. Prepare food for people who have suffered. Tell clients: hey, look, you’re not alone out there. It will be the most important thing.

On the 6th March Gaggan opened in Bangkok also Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh, serving Indian and Mexican specialties. He had to close two weeks later and now does delivery

On the 6th March Gaggan opened in Bangkok also Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh, serving Indian and Mexican specialties. He had to close two weeks later and now does delivery

A specialty available for delivery from Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh

A specialty available for delivery from Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh

What do you think of delivery? Everyone is talking about it in Italy.
On the 6th of March we opened another restaurant. It’s called Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh and it serves Indian and Mexican specialties. Ten days later, we closed because of the lockdown. Without delivery, we would have gone bankrupt. At first the service went very well, now it’s not so good because people have less money to spend: everyone is cooking at home. The virus will have important consequences, even economic and social ones. It has already changed important paradigms because it’s making us understand clearly that without food we cannot live. If you’re good at delivery, you can survive in a dignified way. But if your food is too expensive or luxurious, you won’t survive. This is why we must reinvent ourselves.

I heard you’re working on a new book.
It will be raw and nude, like me. Very crazy. It will not be a cookbook or a storybook, but it will show my life journey. It will be designed as a soap opera: each week there will be a new chapter, online and available for free for everyone. It should be out in one year’s time, when it will all be over. I know well that every time something bad happens, something better is waiting.


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