It may be the end of an era at El Bulli, the world’s best restaurant, but it’s not the end of the world’s best chef Ferran Adrià’s influence on global cuisine, as Gaggan Anand’s Progressive Indian cuisine in Bangkok testifies.
Last Saturday saw the closing of Spanish superstar chef Ferran Adrià’s restaurant El Bulli – the most famous and most adventurous restaurant in the world. While Adrià baffles and teases food journalists about his future plans for the closed restaurant and research laboratory he now calls elBulli Foundation – as much as he baffled and teased them with his food – it’s apparent his influence on cuisine is far from over.
It was inevitable that Adrià’s influence would reach Bangkok and the best evidence of that has been the recent opening of the elegant molecular Thai restaurant, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the new Kempinski hotel by Thai gastronome and entrepreneur Lertchai Treetawatchaiwong and Danish Michelin-starred chef Henrik Yde-Andersen.
But more surprising – although not so when you learn the backstory – is Adrià’s influence on Indian cuisine in Bangkok. Chef Gaggan Anand is the first Indian chef to create molecular Indian cuisine, which he calls ‘Progressive Indian’, and was the first Indian chef to stage at Ferran Adrià’s research lab.
We’d previously eaten at the restaurant Red in 2009, in Bangkok’s hip Thong Lor neighbourhood, where Gaggan was consulting chef, and even then we could see that this was a chef who was not content just to churn out the Indian classics.
“It was at Red that I really grew as a chef, moving from mass production to mastering fine dining cuisine,” Chef Gaggan told us when we interviewed him for some magazine stories a couple of months ago at his new restaurant Gaggan, housed in a lovely, light-filled old Thai weatherboard residence on a tiny soi.
While working at Red, Gaggan started researching the breakthrough cuisine of Adrià. “I bought all his cookbooks and read everything about El Bulli,” Anand revealed. “It became my dream to work there.”
After multiple phone calls to the restaurant, which eventually led to a phone interview, Gaggan was invited to El Bulli. When asked what he should bring, the reply was quick: “Bring Indian spices!”
Anand wasn’t to work with the brigade of around 70 chefs at the restaurant near Roses, Catalonia in the Costa Brava, but at the research lab back in Barcelona. He said his aim was to learn the thinking that goes into devising dishes.
“I was working in the research lab, not in the kitchen, so I was surrounded by scientists – I was the only chef there! – and I had never been very good at science,” Gaggan admits.
The chef claimed that he was a more instinctual cook before he went to El Bulli and his experience in the lab taught him to be much more specific when it came to techniques and measurements.
Anand, who labels his food Progressive Indian Cuisine (with a nod to Progressive Rock, which he enjoys), said of his time at El Bulli that, “I learnt to think how they think, to constantly create, to experiment, to innovate. They changed my thought processes. What they do there is wizardry. Being there gave me direction.”
Having sampled Anand’s cuisine, we can say that he’s found a good direction to head in, with popular dishes such as Chicken Tikka Masala* given a lighter touch but still with ample flavour. And his ‘egg’ of fresh homemade yoghurt served with Indian spices clearly evidence that his time at El Bulli was well spent.
Adrià’s El Bulli legacy is not all positive. We’ve had some dreadfully (de)constructed meals, in the name of what is commonly known as molecular gastronomy, by chefs without the skill set of the best practitioners of these techniques.
Gaggan, however, is breaking ground with his thoughtful take on contemporary Indian cuisine, and, just like our favourite chefs in Barcelona, experimenting in unpretentious ways.
While probably even Adrià doesn’t know where the future lies, we can certainly see the effects of the era of El Bulli around the world. Even in Bangkok.
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*Yes, we’re aware that some people claim that this dish is not ‘authentic Indian’ and its origins are found in English-style Indian food.
Also see our story on Eating Out in Bangkok – Bangkok’s Best Restaurants (here) in which we also feature Gaggan.