Gaggan, Bangkok: Indian molecular cuisine. Sounds chic, tastes great.

Gaggan Anand is a very gifted chef, born in Kalkata, India.  He’s had a blossoming career. At the age of 22 this young talent had a chance to cook for US president Bill Clinton and Abdul Kaham, the former president of India.After having reached the culinary top in his native country, he moved to Thailand in 2007, where he bought a property to convert into his own restaurant in Bangkok, named after himself.  Gaggan means “sky” in Hindi. During the renovation of this beautiful colonial wooden house in the business district, he went to Spain where he was a trainee at Ferran Adrià’s restaurant, El Bulli, renowned worldwide for its molecular cuisine.  Gaggan Anand was the first Indian and the second Asian chef ever to have a traineeship there.  And yes, I was lucky enough to have dinner at Gaggan. Booking a table for one was wonderfully easy; all it took was  a phone call two days before.I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, but the four hours at Gaggan were a roller coaster for the senses.  I never again want to hear that molecular gastronomy leaves guests hungry. After the tenth course, I was bursting, and there were three more to go. All desserts, and I didn’t leave a crumb.

Molecular cuisine is a mix of cooking and science,  where the kitchen looks more like a laboratory than anything designed to create anything traditionally seen as food. Ingredients are put into liquid nitrogen, or presented as foams or are speriphied (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherification).  Since this is an Indian restaurant, my Western European palette was not quite accustomed to the tastes and you don’t always recognise them, so add the techniques and you’re quite lost. But oh boy, this was great food!

The hors d’oeuvre was composed of four items; a little bag filled with a crunchy, spicy mix of what I believe was glacé fruit, peanut and wasabi. There was also a spoon with some unidentifiable content. It looked like white chocolate, but when I wanted to pick it up to bite off a chunk, I was stopped by the waiter.  DSC_1417

I then took a spoon to scoop out a bit, but apparently this wasn’t the way to do it either. They told me this was a “one shot”, to be  gobbled in one go.

The creation was virginal and reminded me of lassi (a tasty Indian yoghurt drink to cool down spicy bites) , and was fluid. How they got this from to kitchen to my table without messing it up still is a mystery to me.

The third snack was a miniature chocolate kettle filled with stock, described by a lady one table further away as “a mon chéri” (Ferrero company), followed by a lot of laughter, just a bit too loud. The  lady was part of a select party of six French-speaking Belgians.  Their conversations were about money, lots of money, business, stock exchange and I think I even heard them namedropping “King Philippe”.  When entering the restaurant one of the gentlemen at the table had seen me with my orange notebook and my Nikon D7000 and asked me, in a noblesse oblige demeaning, patronising manner: “What are you doing here? Are you writing an article?” When they were all seated, I heard the lady ask “Only white wine? No red wine?”  just one time too many.

DSC_1422Meanwhile one splendid dish after the other is being served. I have a Willy Wonka, with a transparent layer of foie gras and little heart shaped leaves. There is also soup, served in a cut out stone, a delicate lamb curry on the crispiest toast ever. There is liquid salad (yes, a liquid salad!), a scallop caught in Norwegian waters served with coconut cream and coriander foam, then there is a royal portion of lobster, a baby lamb chop photogenically presented under a bell glass.

Stop.

Taste is sometimes something you’ll have to acquire. After years as a flexitarian, I find this lamb chop tastes just a bit too strong.  I rarely eat meat, but I gave in because I started to miss dishes like  Bolivian chicken (recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-bolivian-chicken-135784), chicon gratin (recepe: http://www.visitflanders.co.uk/discover/flanders/flemish-specialities/endives ) and my sister’s steak with pepper sauce and hand-cut fries. At Gaggan’s, every guest is asked whether he eats everything. The merits of an Indian chef: could this be the only molecular restaurant with a complete vegetarian menu?

A charming waitress came to my table and discretely informs me that if I’d like, I can see the kitchen.  You do not refuse offers like this. She led me to the kitchen, separated by a big window from a dining room downstairs.

This must be the best table in the restaurant. Yes, of course I can take pictures. DSC_1437I see a tattooed muscular arm which belongs to a cool Spaniard who works here. The team is quite international and is highly concentrated. If they had noticed me and my camera, then they are defenitely not paying attention to us. When on kitchen duty, keep your priorities straight.

Back at my table, I tell an American couple in all my enthusiasm about this special table. Two seconds later I hear him ask if he, too, can get to see the kitchen. This is probably the first time in my life that I see a Thai roll her eyes. Oopsy, my mistake. I show the American guest my pictures that I already put on the iPad, as a consolation.

After the chicken curry with two sorts of naan bread (very nice, but way too much food!), it’s time for dessert. The first one is prepared at my table in a Teppanyaki show cooking style: a bit of dough sprinkled with chocolate chips is chilled on a plate until I have a crispy frozen biscuit. Attention: it is very cold! Then there is carrot mousse served in a sliced down the length wine bottle, I think I taste a hint of mint and chocolate. The 13th and last course is a nice dish of massala ice cream.

DSC_1466After this treat I took a peek in the chef’s library; I leaf through the photo book about El Bulli and I decide to end the evening at the Vertigo and Moon bar. A friendly waiter offers me a ride there, but I preferred to take a taxi. The driver picked me up right at the door and drops me off at the lobby of the Banyan Tree Hotel.  I feel a bit like Posh Spice. After a quick visit without a drink, but happy with my spectacular images of Bangkok by Night, I leave this area of town. For the equivalent of 2,50 € a taxi took me back home safely, to Khao San Road.

At the terrace across the road, Google informs me that El Bulli is closed. They will reopen in 2014, not as a restaurant, but as a research center for innovative cooking techniques.

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