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Exclusive Interview: Chef Gaggan Anand on Being a Dad, Licking Plates and Encouraging His Daughter to be a Rebel

Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - Cool DadsCool Dads

Rebel Chef? Boundary-pusher? Prankster? Chef Gaggan Anand might be all those things but here he talks about his other side, being a dad to his daughter Tara. Plus we hear why he really gets diners to lick the plate!

We chat to world-famous Chef Gaggan Anand whose now closed Bangkok restaurant won No 1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for four consecutive years (2015 – 2018) and No 4 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef Gaggan Anand, the man behind one of the hottest pop-up dining concepts in town gives us an exclusive interview (he admits he is a very hard man to pin down so we are honoured!). Here he shares stories about the first dishes he cooked when he was 6 years old, why he makes his diners lick plates, and how being a dad to his 6-year-old daughter, Tara who lives with his ex-wife in Bangkok, is the most important thing to him.

Chef Gaggan Anand daughter Tara

Tell us something crazy about yourself?

Everything is crazy about me, I am a crazy guy. I am a super risk-taker, I do not take any financial advice or other advice. I go for it and sometimes I lose and losing is the biggest learning in life. Failure starts with success and success starts with failure. I personally think that life is short so I want to live it.

I’ve never smoked, I’ve never done drugs, I’ve never done anything illicit, people say that’s why I look like this or behave like that. But I was born to be naughty. I was a crazy guy as a kid, I would pick up a snake and not know if it was poisonous or not and put it in my friend’s letterbox! I pranked the f* out of people!

I have become a hippy so I have learnt how to live out of a suitcase. I am a global citizen because I can live in 3 cities in one month and behave as if it is my city.

Read More: New Restaurants & Cafés in Singapore: Foodie News Flash

Chef Gaggan Anand exclusive interview Sassy Mama Beate Baldry

So where is home or do you keep travelling?

Home is in Bangkok of course because that’s where my daughter, my everything is, but Singapore is my new home. I live 15 days in Singapore and 15 days in Bangkok so that’s how it is. I’m learning to understand the culture of Singapore which is stabilized, controlled and not ready for crazy people like me!

What was the first dish you ever cooked as a child?

I was making a Masala Chai and instant noodles around the age of 6 according to my mom. Nowadays I have seen a part of parenting where kids at the age of 3 help to bake or make eggs so there are advantages of this modern life compared to 40 years back when you did not have kitchen equipment for kids. Now you can go on a shopping spree to buy all sorts of kitchen utensils for kids!

When you’re not cooking yourself what do you like to eat?

Street food. You’ll find me not in a fancy restaurant but I’m spotted mostly at hawker centres. I love noodle dishes. Char kway teo etc.

What does being a rebel mean to you and why is it so important?

I myself was not accepted in society the way I was where I came from, the bottom of society. Either way, I rebelled my way up. We are judgemental in our life, everyone judges for what they look like and what they wear. Society is so fake and flashy and I wanted to give people an “Eff you” situation. So they come to my restaurant to show off, wear expensive bags and watches and then they start licking my plate. I remind them about basic pleasures in life!

Parents often tell their kids not to play with their food, and not to eat with their hands (unless this is part of their culture). But your cuisine is a playful reinvention of dishes made to be eaten with your hands. What is your intention with this?

I am showing my culture. Sushi is supposed to be eaten by hand and when people eat with chopsticks at a sushi restaurant they don’t realise how offensive it is to the chef. I thought the curse of being so famous means I will be judged, so I thought I will use this to exhibit my art of eating with your hands so every dish we created we made so people eat with their hands. So that whole crazy psychology became our unique approach to food.

Did you take pleasure from seeing people act more ‘basic’ in licking plates?

Oh, Yes! We made people lick the plate from Japan to Chile, from America to Australia. When we went to different continents to different cultures we could understand how the culture was exhibitionist or repressive. In America, they were fine with it. In Japan, Italy, Paris, India, and Singapore they felt comfortable with it. But in Korea, they didn’t like the idea of licking plates in a restaurant! I am not judging the culture but you can see how the culture differs with one dish.

Now that you are known to be boundary-pushing, is there a pressure to surprise diners with something wilder?

To change the dish is easy, but to innovate something that is sensual is pure madness. You have to be beyond the boundary, above it, you have to be in a place and time and space which is just you. When I create menus I am alone, no music, just pin-drop silence, I am in the zone, getting high on my menu ideas.

Chef Gaggan Anand exclusive interview Sassy Mama Beate Baldry

Would you encourage rebelliousness in your daughter?

100%. I want her to make a difference. I want her to be herself. Today we are so stressed about education and the way we educate people. I was never educated that way. I just came from a $4 school and look where I am. I think education is about how you are as a human and your ethics in life. If I can impart that knowledge to my child I am a successful father.

Take Elon Musk, when he launched the idea that he wanted to go to space, Armstrong and everyone said he’s a fool and today look at him, they call him a genius. So until you are successful they will call you a fool and then once you have success with your idea, you become a genius. So you are not a genius until you become successful and I think that is a part of life, that is education. That is what I want to encourage in my daughter. I don’t want her to be a genius but I want to encourage her to be successful in being an independent person.

You may be a Harvard or Oxford graduate but if you can’t cook you aren’t independent. Their parents forgot to teach them how to cook!

Chef Gaggan Anand exclusive interview Sassy Mama Beate Baldry

Do you teach your daughter to cook? 

Well, I have a serious situation where my ex doesn’t allow me to be with my daughter. Under Thai law, only a Thai citizen can have custody of the child so that’s something I am fighting for. That’s why I am opening restaurants outside Thailand to create that economic independence for my daughter without the complications with my ex. I’m trying to create a successful life for my daughter without being able to be in her physical presence.

All that I built from my money and property is under my daughter’s name. When I got divorced I gave up everything and went out from my daughter’s assets. And since my ex is the custodian of my daughter under Thai law she holds the property names and everything. Even the restaurant that I own in Bangkok is owned by my 6-year-old daughter. The partnership is half-half but my ex has the right as the custodian of my daughter. So I had to create a financial base not connected to my daughter and bring stability to life as I’m the breadwinner of my family. I had a bad situation with my ex for one year so I had to take a sabbatical, take a step back and heal myself from all that pain and fight as a parent without hurting my daughter as my daughter sees it all.

Chef Gaggan Anand daughter Tara in hospital

When was the last time you saw your daughter?

The last time I saw my daughter was a month ago when she was in hospital as she has epilepsy, and that is the biggest concern. I was able to visit her in hospital and that was legal and my daughter was shocked – she had not seen me for 11 months. The first thing she said to me was “Is it really papa?” And that was the best thing ever.

My ex is trying to delete my history from my daughter and that’s a very sad thing. I did my best to try and understand my ex because in the end, it’s my daughter who will suffer when she grows up and sees what happened. I tried my best but the relationship with my ex became too abusive. So now I have taken this to the criminal court.

I have to get court permission to talk to my daughter, it’s that bad. I have appealed to the court and sued my ex on defamation. All I want is to have my time with my daughter. I have had business success in 5- 6 years that a person might take to build in 50 years and still not being able to live with my daughter is the biggest pain of my life and the biggest lesson of life. I’m a believer in life and love and I do things for love and life. All that mental stress and pain becomes an art and cooking releases it and music releases it. All that I’ve made I cannot enjoy with my daughter so what do I do? Do I sit at home and regret and do drugs or kill myself or live my life happily and exhibit my pain in my art? And that’s what I do.

Chef Gaggan Anand exclusive interview Sassy Mama Beate Baldry

What’s the fondest memory you have of your daughter?

My fondest memory is definitely the latest one. Seeing my daughter in hospital. And the next day when I woke up at 6am I went again and that was amazing – I fed her breakfast.

My other fondest memories are when I used to make coffee with my daughter a year back – her helping me to grind the coffee. I also cannot forget the first meal I made my daughter when she was a baby and she spat it out!

Oh no, she must have been your harshest customer! What did you cook?

It was a broccoli soup.

Chef Gaggan Anand daughter Tara as a baby

What are you working on at present?

I’m writing a book, it’s called FUCK. It’s a four-part book “For Unlawful Curry Knowledge”
For the people I love to cook for (my mother, my daughter, my ex, my girlfriend).
Unlawful – means all the unlawful things I’ve done.
Curry – as in what is curry and how do you make it.
Knowledge as in the technique and skills
And it’s going to be a book about my life story to inspire people. One thing I’ve learnt about life is abuse is human, it’s about a person who is already suffering. Everyone has certain painful chapters in life. Hunger and poverty is the biggest crime. These are the life lessons I’ve learned.

Did you grow up experiencing hunger?

We were not hungry but we never knew what we were eating the next day. There were days that were good and days that were bad, months with great meals and months with bad meals. That has made me the person I am.

So many people are suffering in the world, I saw them in my restaurant. People would book a seat a year in advance and before they entered the restaurant they would be unhappy customers because of something personal that went wrong, they were not even talking to each other. While others aren’t talking to each other because they are both on their phones. They’re not even enjoying my dish just doing TikToks! All of this is happening in my restaurant and I am watching the pain of it. Meanwhile, 40 or 50 chefs have been making that one dish for them and they are not eating that dish on time. So I started creating dishes like Lick it Up or Sucking the Milk, my whole menu was so interactive so that they had no choice but to talk to each other or f**king eat my food! Get off their phones, take a photo and go back to eating!

What’s next after The Last Supper X Gaggan Anand: 32-hand Extravaganza?

My philosophy is all good things need to come to an end. I will close fine dining in big formats and from now everything will be smaller formats only 14-18 seat chef tables. I will open the chef table in Bangkok on 12 August – a Chef’s Table with the Gaggan Experience. Before that, we will be in Tomorrow Land doing a Chefs Table. And then we will do that chef table concept in every city in the world. Singapore is on the cards.

I’m cursed – many people say Oh Gaggan is not cooking for me – I can’t cook for 50 people every day, it will drive me mad – I’ve been there. So this way I can control my energy and in a way, this will extend the life of my candle – I’ve learnt to understand my energy and my life and that’s why I can give you this interview because I didn’t do many interviews, I’m so difficult to interview.

You are! Thank you for taking the time for me!

Because the questions, when I heard it was Sassy Mama, it was more interesting than Financial Times or anybody because that person is more interested in what I have achieved. But I want to talk about my life, about the things I have deep inside me.

Thank you I feel honoured!

No, I feel honoured to talk to you.

Thank you so much Chef Gaggan Anand! Wishing you all the best in your next foodie adventures. Catch The Last Supper X Gaggan Anand: 32-hand Extravaganza for the final month of The Gaggan Residency at Mandala Club (1-30 June 2022) where 15 of the biggest culinary maestros in Singapore, join the rebel Chef Gaggan Anand for 32-hand extravaganza.

Read More: New Restaurants & Cafés in Singapore: Foodie News Flash

All images Gaggan Anand Instagram with permission

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