Mumbai-born chef, Garima Arora, clinched the much-coveted Michelin star, the bar table at her Bangkok restaurant, Gaa was fashioned into a ground for beer pong.
The honour, hitherto conferred to her has solely been upon male chefs of Indian origin (Vineet Bhatia, Sriram Aylur, Vikas Khanna, Srijith Gopinath, among others).
This makes Arora the first Indian woman to receive the star on behalf of her over-a-year-old restaurant.
“The first thing I did after receiving a call from Michelin, was call my father. To be honest, the news took time to sink in,” she says, adding pragmatically, “We celebrated on the night of the 14th but got back to work the next day. It’s business as usual. The star drives us to push harder.”
Arora, 30, landed in the Thai capital in 2015 to work at now-partner, Gaggan Anand’s eponymous restaurant, jettisoning both her position as chef de partie at Copenhagen’s Noma (considered one of the world’s finest restaurants) and the opportunity of a step up the ladder to sous chef — as revealed by the chef and co-owner of Noma, René Redzepi, on his Instagram account.
“My time at Noma changed me not only as a cook, but also as a person. Working with René taught me that cooking is a cerebral exercise, not just physical work. There’s a lot of thinking involved in coming up with something new and meaningful,” she says.
Her other culinary instruction includes a stint at Gordon Ramsay in Dubai, and her education at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. “While my education gave me a strong foundation in French cooking, which enabled me to work in professional kitchens, at Gordon Ramsay, I learned to be a team player. When you start off, you just need to show up and do your job and that kitchen taught me humility,” she says.
But her dream to “one day open my own restaurant” only materialised while working with Anand, who moved her to Mumbai to start a restaurant.
That one never did come to pass but the investors offered to back her own. “I was looking for creative ways to express my cooking,” she says, adding that Gaa, “came out of a journey of self-discovery, which means that it is ever-evolving”.