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‘We keep our heads down and work hard,’ says Chef Garima Arora

A baby, two Michelin stars for her restaurant Gaa, and a judge on MasterChef India—Chef Garima Arora opens up about her research and vegetarian cuisine with TLM.
Chef Garima Arora

How does life change for a chef who has won two Michelin stars for her restaurant and made history by being India’s only female chef? “We are busier now,” chuckles Chef Garima Arora who runs Gaa in Bangkok. “But other than that, we continue to do what we always do and we have a very clear agenda that we are pushing forward,” says Chef Arora, who won the second Michelin star for Gaa in December last year. “We didn’t get here because of any pressure and we have a clear idea of how we do things. So, we keep our heads down and work hard. We don’t work for accolades even though it is great to have them and it is great validation and I cannot discount their role but it is not why we do it,” she explains.

We caught up with Garima Arora, celebrity chef, and the only female chef to have won 2 Michelin stars for her restaurant, Gaa, when she was in town for a personal trip. Chef Arora who originally hails from Mumbai, started cooking at the age of 21 and opened Gaa in 2017. Before opening Gaa, Chef Arora worked with Gordon Ramsay and René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. She received the accolade of the first Michelin star in 2018, a year after she opened her restaurant in Bangkok and since then she and her restaurant have received many more accolades in lists across the world. 2023 was Chef Arora’s year. From being blessed with a baby, and being a judge on MasterChef India, to her Michelin accolade—it’s been quite a year for the celebrity chef.

What do you ask a chef who has been written about thoroughly? We found out that Chef Arora was a journalist before she became a chef and she laughed when we asked her about the transition. “I was not a very good journalist,” she says. “But cooking is also a young person’s game. It is a hardworking profession with physical labour so I understood that I should start young.”


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We tried to steer the conversation away from the usual topic about her inspiration, how she got into cooking, and such, and instead focused on her research techniques and her idea of making a Durian the hero of her vegetarian-forward menu.

Stirring research in a pot

In a piece by the Michelin guide from January this year, Chef Arora mentioned that she was going to travel to India and focus on the Malvan coastal region of Maharashtra. The traditional vegetarian-eating Brahmin community here ends up eating a lot of seafood because they live next to the coast. Chef Arora also mentioned how the biodiversity was quite similar to coastal Thailand.

This piqued our interest however, Chef Arora clarified that they missed their deadline for the season and instead will be going to either the North East of India or the South for their R&D trip. She shares how Edible Issues, a media company, is planning the itinerary for her and the team. “During these research trips, we spend a lot of time on the road,” she says, “trying to meet different people, and cultural perspectives, trying new ingredients, and techniques, and looking for new plate ware.” These trips are supposed to be an immersive experience in one particular region, only through the lens of food.

Currently, “we are working on ingredients,” she states. “Acidity plays a very important role in our food and menu so we are looking for alternate acidic ingredients other than lime, imlee, and kokum—the ones we normally use.” She further explains how their R&D process is conducted in three ways. “We look at it through ingredients, flavour, technique or culture perspective. A dish has to answer to one of these ideas and that is how we pick it up.”

Use of Indian techniques

Chef Arora believes that there are many similarities between India and Thailand. “Indian food,” she says, “has a connection not just with Thailand but with other East Asian countries as well and that is something we don’t talk about much. A cuisine that is thousands of years old—you can only imagine the kind of influence it has on the geographical area.”

Gaa uses “Indian culinary techniques to draw umami from vegetables, we use a lot of charcoal grill, we play around with flavouring through fats and the idea of roasting vegetables as a base instead of quick frying or stir-frying them,” explains Chef Arora. The Bangkok-based restaurant taps into traditional Indian techniques such as fermentation, use of fats, textures, temperatures, and more.

Can Chef Arora’s win also be a win for the Indian culinary industry?

In the Michelin star piece from above, Chef Arora’s following quote stood out. “Many Indian chefs have to leave India to gain recognition. I would love to have [received two MICHELIN Stars] on my home soil. However, successful restaurants in Thailand can bring attention to restaurants back home, too. And I think [Gaa’s success] is not just good for women. It’s also good for young boys. In India, we’ve been raised to believe that you be either an engineer or a doctor, and there’s no third profession. So many dreams remain unfulfilled because of these expectations. But the country is changing so fast, and doing well in another field like cooking can create opportunities for everybody.”

She, very humbly, admits that many chefs in India are more famous than her—someone who is living abroad. “I don’t think they need any help as some of the best chefs in the world are residing in the country. Whether it is Chef Manish Mehrotra, Chef Vikas Khanna, Chef Ranveer Brar, or even Chef Kunal Kapur—there are so many more who did not leave India, stuck around and became popular,” she says.

Chef Garima Arora

Photos: Instagram

However, she feels that it is about time the Michelin guide made its way to India as well. “The government needs to invite the Michelin guide,” she says. “The tourism department needs to send in an invitation and an investment needs to be made,” Chef Arora explains.

Using Durian in vegetarian cuisine

“We did jackfruit [at Gaa] seven years ago when nobody was doing it but now everyone is doing it. So now, our main course in vegetarian right now is Durian,” shares Chef Arora. Our interest piqued because firstly, durian is not very common in India and secondly, it has a particular texture, taste, and smell—something which is not a favourite for most people. “I think,” starts Chef Arora, “this is a testament to what is possible with vegetarian cuisine. Our main course has always been vegetarian and the idea is to showcase what is possible in this cuisine. To me, a piece of meat is very boring, there is only so much you can do with it. I think it is the imagination of the chef when you give them a jackfruit or a durian and see what they do with it.” She cooks the durian in the tandoor and presents it with other vegetables, chutneys, condiments, and rotis to make it into an entire meal by itself.

Chef Garima Arora

Photos: Instagram

Apron off!

“She is a mother and a dog mom who is exhausted,” chuckles Chef Arora. “But I think, once you become a mom, you are first a mom and then everything else.” Her idea of unwinding is to take long naps, work out, eat well and spend quality time with my dog, son, and walk around a lot. “Spending time with friends and family is the best therapy.”