Gaggan, But Not Forgotten

I usually only write about wine related topics, but a week ago my mind was absolutely blown away with a 17-course meal that was so divine, I’m still lost in euphoria. My palate was equally mesmerized as it is with the finest of wines, and to put it quite simply, IT. WAS. THE. BEST. MEAL. OF. MY. LIFE! The experience was so revolutionary and mind-bendingly complex, it reminded me of my first “Aha moment” with wine (which I elaborated on HERE). As I’ve gotten older, it’s harder to wow me like the old days. One might say I’ve sadly become more jaded over the years, so when something like this occurs with either food or wine, you need to recognize why this occurred and how lucky you are to have experienced something like this again. Calling this meal “special” would be an understatement; it was empyreal! The chef integrated a level of fun, choreographed semi-loud rock and roll for each dish, and fine cuisine that spoke deeply to the core of my soul.

On Thursday September 13, 2018, I was given the privilege of accompanying my mom and her partner to a pop-up dinner at Eight Tables (Time magazine’s World’s Greatest places to eat in 2018) in San Francisco. Proceeds for this dinner benefited the charity Chefs For Change, which helps feed the world. I’ve dined at Eight Tables once before and it’s great (so dine there while you can before they get their Michelin star(s)!), and I thought it’d be similar cuisine, but boy was I wrong! As a self-proclaimed, gourmet enthusiast, it’s hard to blow this food and wine snob’s mind, but last Thursday, Gaggan Anand from Bangkok’s famous 2 star Michelin rated restaurant Gaggan took me on a culinary journey to the promised land. I remembered him from Netflix’s Chef’s Table (Season 2 Episode 6) because of his rags to riches story: he has had real struggles between poverty and losing a brother, giving him a genuine depth of realness you don’t see from many celebrities. When he’s in his element, he likes to tell stories and jokes (i.e. he told us that when you cook lamb, it usually smells like a fart. Everyone laughed).

The meal began with a menu on the table with 17 emojis (with no other description) that represented the meal we were about to have. There was a pencil next to the menus and we were supposed to write our notes next to these cryptic characters. This progressive approach forced us to start guessing what was inside these dishes, and challenged us to start thinking outside the box. When I saw how Gaggan takes inspiration from many other cultures and fuses them all in such a way that he makes it his own, I knew we were in for a treat. For example, he would take a Chinese dim sum concept and use it to create his Mushroom Pav dish. Then he’d create a unique sushi dish by combining uni (sea urchin) over green apple ice cream. He had a spicy foie gras dish that required us to lick the plate as we listened to Kiss’ “Lick It Up.” Utensils weren’t even served until the 11th course.

The most interesting dishes for me were the ones where he’d include his Thai and Indian spices. His Thai inspired Scallops Cold Curry dish was just spicy enough to give you a slap followed by a counterbalanced coconut milk apology. He took you right to the point where the spice was present and interesting, but not overpowering. His Charcoal Samosa was an explosion of chutney, spice, and mint, with dashes of other hidden spices (a touch of cumin perhaps?) that gave it a stimulating intensity. His Cutlass Fish Paturi was smoked in a banana leaf that was wrapped in some kind of paperbark which was then grilled and charred. There were intriguing flavors here that I’ve never experienced in a fish dish such as pignoli mustard (and I believe tamarind as well). The last dish was called Dark Side of the Moon, and was served along Pink Floyd’s classic song.

All in all, this meal was the most delectable I’ve ever had (sorry Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Dominique Crenn, Corey Lee, etc.). It’s not because other chefs aren’t “better.” It’s because my palate and DNA are unique to me, and Gaggan found a way to tease and intrigue, leaving me always wanting more with every dish. I truly shared Gaggan’s palate with spice. That’s rare. He was fearless with what he wanted to do with spice, and he committed to it fully by combining opposite ends of the flavor spectrum together like a magician. There was not one “throw away” dish, and every single creation was perfectly balanced between sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and umami. I was allured to the Dark Side.

After the meal, I met Gaggan to thank him. I also told him that I thought he was a genius and complimented his high level of sophistication with his elevated understanding of balance. He was very modest, and I could tell by his body language that my compliments were making him feel kind of uncomfortable. I then asked him if he liked Napa Valley wines, and he said he prefers tea because of the sulfites in wines. I replied that it’s unfortunate that I don’t make tea out of Napa Valley (but maybe I should start?)….

It’s a shame I didn’t learn about his restaurant in Bangkok earlier as I was just there in December on my honeymoon. I will have to revisit Thailand soon before he closes it down in 2020. It’s currently the #1 restaurant in Asia (for the 4th year in a row) and #5 in the world, so if you make a trip out there, be sure to dine there. It’s not just a bucket list item now; it’s an eye opening experience that will make you never look at food the same way again. Don’t say, “maybe I’ll go someday.” Go there now! You’ll be seduced and enlightened all at the same time. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had this honor and privilege, and I hope to one day be able to enjoy another adventure at his table.

Namaste Gaggan Anand!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *