In this edition of Dished Out, we speak with Gaggan Anand, a master manipulator of Indian cuisine who’s taken residence at the Mandala Club
Gaggan Anand takes a little bit of getting used to. The chef, who once grew up in poverty outside Kolkata, is the most famous Indian chef in the world who does as he pleases and rarely holds his tongue. He also cooks the way he deems fit, manipulating Indian cuisine into dishes that defy tradition, categorisation and at times, manners. At some point during your meal, you might be requested to slip a miniature doughnut over your middle finger. It’s unassuming in the fine-dining world, but whatever it is, he’s managed to create food that’s as relatable as it is fun—fun enough to be on anyone’s bucket list.
You will either love it or you’ll hate it, but you might hate yourself more for not giving him at least a shot. The good news is you won’t even have to fly to Bangkok to eat at his namesake. Mandala Club, a private members club with a big love of food, is currently hosting Anand’s pop-up restaurant until the end of March. He and his entire team from Bangkok have taken a break to be here, and believe it or not, it’s been fully booked out. But that’s not to say you won’t get lucky. We did, and we were even luckier to speak with him, the most famous Indian chef in the world.
What’s it like to be you?
I’m a creep and I’m a weirdo. I live every day as if it’s my last.
What made you believe that?
Life is an expression of everything. It is about the energy you give and receive. To be with something that you like and to be happy doing what you’re doing—that is happiness to me.
So do you think you always bring good energy?
Yes. You know in cartoons, when lightning hits someone and the hair explodes like Einstein? That’s the energy that will be absorbed by the food.
Do you believe in breaking boundaries?
I don’t have a boundary, so what will I break? I do things because of the madness in me. It’s the animal instinct in me that gives me no insecurities. I do what makes me happy. I do it with freedom, which is the only thing I look for in life, besides respect. Respect isn’t something that you can buy.
How have you evolved as a chef and as a person?
I’ve learned that you can use fame to be free. I use fame to give you a dish that requires your middle finger or a lick of the plate—it gives me the freedom to be myself. So fame has changed me, but while it’s made me more liberated, it can also be deceptive. We have to understand it and not live in it. Accept it, but do not treat it as something special in life. Your work and philosophy should not be for fame, but for freedom of expression. I cook because I want to do something outrageous.
What is your cooking philosophy?
It revolves around these pillars: salty, spicy, sour, sweet and surprise.
Do you see your restaurant as a self-contained world where you are in full control?
I think I am the master of my own opera. I am the master of this symphony. I know who plays what best, so I just put people in the right places. I don’t care for looks, colour or gender. I believe in talents who perform well. From the dishwasher all the way to the cook, everyone is rightly chosen and represents us as a whole.
You seem like a very confident man. What do you think is your biggest moment of vulnerability?
It hasn’t arrived yet. If it already has, then you won’t push for anything in life. Your hunger is gone, and so is your ambition.
When you first resigned and shuttered your restaurant, your business partner said “your time is over.” How did that make you feel?
Did the food tonight tell you that my time is over? Did you feel that the food was boring? Did you feel like you had learned something new? This pop-up was sold out in two hours, and I think that’s enough. That’s my real victory, and I can move on to the next new thing.
Being successful, how do you feel with criticism and professional jealousies?
I can’t stop jealousies, but I can avoid them. When I met some chefs in 2013 for the first time in Singapore, they were idols. They then became friends and I then became a competition to them. I believe I’m the same guy. People say “Gaggan became arrogant”, but I only became a threat to them. I never sabotaged or stole recipes, I just cooked what I wanted to. I do my best, even though I know I can’t win it all. In the end, I always look at one thing, and that is to protect the people around me.
Cool. Do you ever find it hard to take a compliment?
I love compliments. Who doesn’t? It’s being nice to someone, and it is motivation. It’s how you look at the world, really.
Lastly, what kind of life advice would you give someone already so successful?
Keep success as the most expensive, rarest whisky that you have. Don’t drink it every day. Keep it, savour it and try to finish the bottle before you die.