Chef Garima Arora has taken the culinary world by storm after being awarded a Michelin Star for her restaurant, Gaa, in Bangkok. The 32-year-old Arora is the first Indian woman chef ever to receive this honour.
She graduated with a degree in mass communications and briefly worked as a journalist before discovering her passion for cooking. Now, she helms a popular restaurant in Bangkok that is booked out for months in advance.
Chef Arora credits her father for instilling a passion for cooking in her. “My dad has had the biggest influence on me,” she said. “I used to watch him cook a lot while growing up. He would travel to various places, and when he got home, he would recreate the dishes he had sampled, or experiment with new combinations. So that stuck with me since childhood and I wanted to be a chef.”
So when did she decide to switch careers? “I realised what I really wanted to do was talk to people through the medium of food. So I did my research and decided to start while I was young. I knew it was time to make the switch.”
Having quit her journalism career after some six months into the job, she moved to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu, a renowned culinary and hospitality school. In 2010, she finished her course and became a qualified chef. What she loves the most about being a chef is the creative satisfaction she gets from cooking.
While the hospitality sector can pose several challenges to beginners, not least to women, Arora’s professional journey as a chef was more or less smooth sailing. She said, “I’ve been lucky enough to never personally experience discrimination. However, I am acutely aware of the fact that being a woman in the kitchen means one has to work all that much harder.”
The talented chef has previously worked with celebrated names of the food industry. In less a than a decade, she has collaborated with celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, René Redzepi and Gaggan Anand at their respective restaurants.
Talking about the experience she garnered working with these luminaries, she said, “I’ve learned a lot from every space I’ve been in. Sometimes you learn how to do things. At other times you learn how not to do things. It was a big learning curve for me.”
Now that Chef Arora has herself become a veteran, with many plaudits to her name, she is open to advising and guiding youngsters. “This is what I tell any young cook, that there is no shortcut. You have to work. You have to put in the hours. There is no way around it. That’s the only way to discover your potential and who you truly are,” she said.
But Chef Arora’s professional ambit isn’t limited to the kitchen. There’s also an entrepreneurial side to her work. She co-owns the Gaa restaurant in Bangkok, with Gaggan Anand.
Early on in her career, she’d realised that she wanted to own a restaurant, in order to better express herself as a chef. That’s how Gaa, the Indo-Thai restaurant she founded, came into existence, in April 2017. She said, “The goal is to find culinary connections between Indian and Thai cultures. The vision behind Gaa was to offer diners a cross-cultural experience they’ve never had before.”
Arora also elaborated on the responsibilities of being a restaurateur as opposed to being a chef. She said, “It is very different than being a line cook. As an owner, you’re responsible for every aspect of the restaurant. You have to keep your staff motivated, guests satisfied and investors happy—it is a tricky balance for sure.” However, she insists that at the core, she is still very much a chef. It reflects in the fact that she goes in the kitchen and works alongside her team every day. That doesn’t change.
When it comes to setting up restaurants, every detail matters—from the ambience to the items on the menu. So Arora deliberated on all aspects of this project with her team, to make Gaa stand out from other restaurants and to create a setting that offers a unique experience to guests.
Her restaurant has now won a Michelin star, but Arora is still unperturbed by what the future holds, and by the burden of responsibility that such a distinction inevitably brings. She said, “The fact that we got the star means that we are going in the right direction. So we just need to keep doing what we do… The star has definitely given wind to our sails, but there’s so much more to do, and we’re only just beginning.”
Arora believes that the similarities between Indian and Thai food works to her advantage as a restaurateur. “What’s most surprising about the food at Gaa is how Indian and Thai food are more alike than one would imagine. This allows me to marry the two cuisines and weave my Indian heritage into the food of where I currently live, rather seamlessly. At the end of the day, Indian and Thai cooking cultures have a lot of similarities, and this allows each dish to stand out,” she said.
She is hopeful that Indian cuisine will be embraced on the world stage in the future. Currently, there are only a handful of Michelin-starred Indian restaurants around the world. Arora believes that with more and more Indian chefs receiving the star for their restaurants, it’s likely that the landscape would soon change. According to Arora, this opens up new avenues for the government to intervene and invite the Michelin authorities to include India in the coveted Michelin Guide.
As for her personal goals, she signed off by saying, “I think it is very important that everything I do must pave the way for the next generation to do better. I want my work to make it easier for Indian chefs to get on the world stage. Ultimately, that is what gives meaning to my career.”