In the constantly evolving world of fine dining, Indian chef Garima Arora has carved out an infallible Michelin-starred niche for herself, as the first Indian female chef to receive the honour. She talks to us about her trials and triumphs of this difficult year, and how Bangkok is getting back on its feet.
ELLE: How has the pandemic impacted you? What have been your introspections, self-revelations and discoveries?
Garima Arora: It’s been a tough year, that’s for sure. We had to temporarily shut down our Restaurant Gaa (located in Bangkok, Thailand and ranked #15 on Asia’s Best Restaurants list), for a few months, and move 40 staff members with us. That was no easy feat. But we try to look at any challenge in a positive light. This downtime has given us a chance to really reflect on our previous business model and think about what really matters to us. I’m happy to say that we finally re-opened Gaa in December with a revamped menu at a new location. In fact, we also launched our new restaurant, HERE, an all-day modern Indian eatery and bar.
ELLE: What has the crisis shown us as a community?
GA: This difficult time has shown me that we, in the food & beverage industry, are incredibly resourceful, creative and resilient.
ELLE: How do you see the food industry evolving to accommodate the new demands of the consumers?
GA: Even though we are very lucky in Bangkok compared to other parts of the world, the challenges remain as long as our borders are still closed. For a restaurant like ours, our clientele used to be 80 per cent tourists, and until things start to open up, it won’t get any easier.
ELLE: How do you suggest we tackle the challenge?
GA: We have no choice but to adapt. Personally, I use this time to think deeply about what we do and how we do it. We have forever championed local ingredients, techniques and crafts. Now, it is the time to champion the local diners.
ELLE: How do you see your field evolving to accommodate the new demands of the consumers?
GA: We are extremely lucky in Bangkok because people are stepping out and dining as usual at this point. They might not go out quite as much as before, but they do make time to indulge and enjoy themselves. For our part, we have to stay true to ourselves while cooking food that is suitable for our market.
ELLE: How must new chefs who are keen to open their own restaurants go ahead with their plans, given that the entire dining landscape has changed. What is the mental shift they would have to make in decision-making?
GA: You have to create a perfect balance between your style of cooking and what your market needs. Your business has to fulfil a need of the customer that is not met yet Being prudent and taking risks at the same time is the key.
ELLE: How are you #ImaginingTheWorldToBe post-COVID-19?
GA: People will be more careful but dining out will never go out of style—it will only evolve over time. The joy of gathering around a dining table with friends and family, and trying new things together can’t just disappear. I remain hopeful about what the future holds.