SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) When in a different city, it makes sense for visitors to eat local. Going to Bangkok for Indian food doesn't sound quite right, but judging from how far Gaggan restaurant has come in a mere four years, chef and owner Gaggan Anand must be doing something right.
Then again, we're not talking about traditional Indian food - none of the naans, thosais and curries which Chef Anand calls Indian restaurant food.
"Indian food isn't limited to that."
At Gaggan, what you get is progressive Indian cuisine.
"It is not fusion, which is only about confusion," quips the chef. "The cuisine you get is moving ahead in terms of creativity and innovation."
Asked how different that is from traditional Indian food, Chef Anand says: "The food is the same. It tastes the same, but the presentation is different."
He cites the example of his signature amuse bouche, Yogurt Explosion, which he declares as the dish that marks the birth of progressive Indian cuisine.
"It looks like an egg yolk but it's yogurt, and is just that," he says.
Another dish he calls Guess Me, which look like pieces of charcoal on a plate, is made of charcoal and more.
"Some people think it is crab, some think it is prawns. You have to come try it, and then I'll tell you what it is."
His samosa resembles a bird's nest, with a potato mixture that has been turned into a liquid. Chef Anand describes his cooking style as "innovative, avant garde, Indian, and modernist".
He has a 5S philosophy as well, which he says is part of almost every dish.
The 5Ss? Sweet, salty, sour, spicy and surprises.
Gaggan gets a strong following, not only from the expat crowd, but even the local Thais, which surprises the chef.
"I've had Thais tell me, 'I don't like Indian people, but I like your food.' How racist is that," says the chef, but he doesn't seem too bothered by such comments.
"The true foodies come. There are many who fly in just to dine here," says Chef Anand.
"You either like my food or you hate it. So long as 80 per cent of diners like it, I'm happy."
The Kolkata-born chef was in Singapore to judge the South-east Asia leg of the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 competition, and he is back again, this time as a summit speaker for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.
Last year, Gaggan was No. 3 on the Asian list, and No. 17 on The World's 50 Best Restaurant list.
Chef Anand learned many of his modernist cooking techniques during an inspirational internship with the El Bulli research team under Ferran Adrià. "They told me to do something to Indian food," he says.
A three-month consultancy stint in Bangkok in 2007 led him to stay on in the Thai capital. He says opening his restaurant in Bangkok meant that he could start with minimal risk.
He took a loan from his friends to open Gaggan, and paid them back in 18 months.
His goal is not to have many Gaggan restaurants: "That would be possible but I don't want to get carried away. I have to control my greed and be focused."
What he will focus on instead is the food, which he says, using a movie analogy, is the "real hero". A chef is just the director.
"If the food is no good, the chef has no value."
He says that what he is cooking today, is what he has been working on for the last three years.
"Gaggan is not at its peak yet, we are now at the foot of the mountain, about to start our upward climb."
He will be at his peak, when "I can cook what I am thinking right now". He whips out his phone, and shows an extremely long list of food ideas that he jots down.
The 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street, - in particular scenes of sniffing cocaine - has given him an idea. "It is definitely controversial, but what if I can recreate that act through food?" he asks.
He throws up suggestions, using a fake credit card and fake US$100 rolled up bill, and lining white powder. "The diner has to sniff the powder, and he will get a high of flavours in his head but not taste anything," he says excitedly.
"Now how do I make that work?"
He adds that he likes to think up ideas like these. "That's creativity, which has no boundaries. I'm crazy like that."
His ultimate goal is not to be the No. 1 restaurant in the world.
"That would be too arrogant," he says. "But I want to be among the top, not to show that I'm the best, but to make my country proud. To go where no Indian has gone before."
• 750g bread flour
• 60g sugar
• 9g dry yeast
• 15g salt
• 270g eggs
• 240g milk
• 225g butter
• 50g milk
• 50g eggs
Raw mango gel
• 1kg raw mangoes ( skinned and seeded)
• 100g ginger paste
• 25g green chillies
• 10g cumin seeds (roasted)
• 20g turmeric
• 250g brown sugar
• 20g black salt
• 10g Xantana
• 1.5kg minced lamb (shoulder or leg )
• 1kg beef tomatoes (diced)
• 1kg red onions (fine chopped)
• 250g ginger garlic paste
• 100g red chilli powder
• 50g garam masala (see recipe below)
• 10g cardamom and mace powder
• 50g coriander leaves
• Black salt (to taste)
Garam masala (Roast all the spices and grind it in a spice grinder.)
• 200g cumin seeds
• 60g coriander seeds
• 50g green cardamom
• 40g black peppercorns
• 30g black cardamom
• 30g dried ginger powder
• 20g cinnamon
• 20g cloves
• 20g mace
• 15g bayleaf
• 2 nutmegs
1. Keep the bowl mixer chilled in the fridge.
2. Once chilled, combine milk, sugar, eggs and yeast in the bowl with the paddle attachment and mix on a medium speed for one minute.
3. After one minute, slowly incorporate the bread flour into the mixture and continue to mix for another minute.
4. Change to a dough hook attachment and turn down the speed to low speed and knead for 10 minutes.
5. Add salt and then add butter slowly while mixing to incorporate into the dough.
6. Once the butter is fully incorporated, switch to medium speed for 10 more minutes and then start to increase the speed to medium-high for five minutes.
7. The dough should be coming off the side of the bowls by itself and have a satin appearance.
8. Remove the dough into a clean dry mixing bowl covered with plastic wrap and rest for one hour at room temperature.
9. After an hour, punch down the dough and let it rest again inside a fridge overnight about 12 hours.
10. Remove the dough from the fridge, and using a scraper, scrape out 17g of the dough and shape into rounds.
11. Place the shaped dough onto an insert tray, and cover with plastic wrap.
12. Place the tray in a warm temperature area and let it proof to double its size, which usually takes less than two hours.
13. Prepare the egg wash mixture, once proofed, brush lightly with egg wash and place them in the oven at 175 degrees Celcius for eight minutes.
14. After eight minutes, lower the temperature to 120 degrees Celcius and keep them baking for another 10 minutes.
15. Remove the mini brioche buns from the oven, and cool on a cooling rack.
Raw mango gel
1. Blend the raw mangoes into a puree. Heat up oil with ginger, cumin, and chillies until fragrant.
2. Then add in turmeric and continue roasting for another 30 seconds.
3. Pour in the raw mango puree. Bring it up to a simmer and let it simmer until thick.
4. Once it has become thick, season with sugar and black salt.
5. Blend the puree one more time with a high speed blender with Xantana until smooth.
6. Pass it through a fine sieve.
7. Chill it down on an ice bath, and it is ready to use.
1. Heat up the oil, add onions until fragrant and translucent.
2. Add ginger and garlic paste and continue roasting for another 30 seconds.
3. Add the diced tomatoes, and continue to cook until tender and caramelized.
4. Once caramelized, add in the minced lamb, garam masala, red chilli powder and cardamom mace powder.
5. Continue to cook the lamb until it has the consistency of a bolognese.
6. Season with black salt and fine chopped coriander leaves.
This article was first published on March 07, 2015.
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