The food industry has seen a number of women break the glass ceiling and go on to achieve remarkable milestones. From a household name such as Tarla Dalal who has won many accolades for her expertise in culinary skills, to a Madhur Jaffery who has won our hearts with her on-screen presence as well as her innate talent when it comes to everything food.
This International Women’s Day we take the opportunity to felicitate one such woman, who has set an example for all those aspiring to enter the food and beverage industry as well as the fine-dining space, be it as an entrepreneur or a chef. The first Indian female to win a Michelin star, a benchmark for exceptional culinary excellence, and the owner of Gaa, a three-storey Indian fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok, chef Garima Arora was kind enough to spare some time and chat with us about her journey, her first stint on Indian television as a judge on Masterchef India and to share some wisdom as a result of spending nearly 15 years in this industry, for all those individuals who look up to her as a role model.
Keep scrolling to read the full interview.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
From being a Michelin star chef to having 2 successful restaurants in Bangkok under your name, how did this journey begin? I was on my way to India from Copenhagen and I made a pitstop in Bangkok. And call it fate or good luck, I was presented an opportunity to start my own restaurant there and every chef kind of wants to own their own restaurant at some point of time. So yes, I took the opportunity, met some investors and decided to stay back. According to me Thailand is such an amazing canvas to explore Indian food because there’s a connection between the two cultures. So I thought Bangkok was a good place to start off and it has been a wonderful journey so far.
You’ve achieved impressive milestones in the trajectory of your career, what is the mantra or motivation that kept you going when things would get difficult. Difficulties in life are not situations that happen out of the blue. It's part of life and it's what makes life and work fun. It's such a natural thing to have problems and you just solve them and you move on. So, to me, I've never looked at difficulties as something that needs special attention, it's part of the course. And I guess this attitude helps me keep a clear head and not be phased when things go south, which they obviously always do.
As the first Indian woman to win a Michelin star, what advice do you have for all those women who look up to you as a role model? I think the one thing that always pays off no matter what is hard work. There is no shortcut. There'll be about 10,000 things that will go wrong the first year when you try to do something of your own no matter what industry. But that's the fun of doing your own thing. You know you’ll have problems and in turn you’ll learn how to tackle them as well as long as you work hard towards your goal. So for me, yes, the first thing is hard work, that's very important. And second is you really need to surround yourself with people who will support you, whether that is your team or your family. So get your support systems in place before you begin.
Do you feel that women are underrepresented in this industry? What are your observations and thoughts on this? I think our industry has always been inclusive. There has never been a situation where women have been deliberately kept out. Sure this is a very tough job, it's a physically demanding and time-consuming job. And women in general, you have to understand, probably make a bigger sacrifice when they come into an industry like this. You have to put in 14-16 hours a day, especially in the beginning. And that means that is time away from your family and your loved ones. But that’s just something you have to put up with when you sign up for a job in this line of work.
You are currently starring as a judge on Masterchef India alongside chef Ranveer Brar and chef Vikas Khanna, how has the experience been so far? This is the first time I'm doing anything on TV. It's the first time I've actually left the kitchen in 15 years, so it's all new for me. It's been very interesting to see and understand television as a medium for me. I always like to look at things from a creative perspective. And I’ve actually found it more fascinating to see how things work behind the camera than in front. I've met some amazing people both Ranveer and Vikas have been great. They've become good friends and all in all it's been a very positive and new experience.
What did you love about your experience on Masterchef India? Like I said, for me, I enjoy the routines and processes of the behind-the-scenes atmosphere, the production process. It's fascinating to learn about production life, cameras and all those kinds of things. The creative process in anything is what always draws my attention. So for me, learning the production side of things has been interesting and learning about it first-hand has been quite enriching and fascinating.
Could you give us a peek into any exciting projects that you may be working on or gearing up for now? Well, I'm two months away from having my first baby, so I think that's the only project that is on my mind right now. Other than that, there is no project that is at the centre of my attention right now.
Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.