Garima Arora On Her Love For India’s Culinary Heritage
Image Credit: Chef Garima Arora

Chef Garima Arora, who started her career in journalism only to pursue her culinary skills later, was born in Hyderabad and raised in Mumbai. Paris is where she studied the culinary arts, but Garima happily accepts that the very basics of cooking that she has learned are not just from her mother but also from the neighbours during her stay in Mumbai, as she believes that they are the ones who hold the best spices and tricks in their kitchen. 

In 2019, she was awarded Asia's Best Female Chef for the Year by the World's 50 Best Restaurants, and in the same year, Gaa, her restaurant, made its debut on the World's 50 Best Restaurants. In her formative years, she saw names like Rene Redzepi and Gaggan Anand as mentors. Currently, as the judge of MasterChef India season 7, she surely knows her craft well and has made waves in the culinary world. And she might have been raised in Mumbai but Bangkok surely has her heart as she admits being amazed and surprised by so many ingredients, herbs and flavour combinations that one get’s to see here

In an exclusive interview with Slurrp, Garima Arora talks about the Indian culinary heritage and divulges the secrets to becoming an innovative chef. 

Does the title "female chef" make you uncomfortable? 

Yes and no. Of course, the fact that I am female and I am a chef makes sense, but I guess using the terms together comes with a lot of unnecessary baggage and very different ideas of what chefs do. Being a man or woman does not matter; what matters is being a chef, because when somebody eats your food, they don't care whether a man or woman is cooking. This is a loaded term that has been used in the wrong way. 

For many, Masterchef India has served as a stepping stone. What are three things you would tell the contestants to keep in mind while fighting it out for the apron? 

I believe that hard work is the most important factor; it is critical to continue learning and absorbing everything that the kitchen and grooming teams have to say. The second is to be true to where you come from. There is a reason they are in this kitchen; they are representing the community and the states from which they have come, and it is critical that they remain true to that at all times. Finally, I would advise them to avoid the popular fusion style of cooking. Staying true to your cuisine means understanding the fundamentals very clearly and not fusing your flavours with another cuisine or other countries' food, and you know, I think that just adds more confusion than fusion. 

Three judges of Masterchef India 7 - Vikas Khanna (L) Garima Aroma (C) Ranveer Brar (R)


What is special about Indian cooking compared to other world cuisines? 

I think the most special part of Indian food is our ability to draw umami from vegetarian food. No cuisine in the world does as much justice to vegetables as Indian food does. The techniques, the spices, and our culinary history all elevate food and flavours derived from vegetarian cuisine, so I think that is one of the most amazing aspects of Indian cuisine today. Chefs around the world and different Michelin-starred restaurants are trying to recreate vegetarian-tasting menus and vegetarian main courses, but nobody comes close to what we can do so naturally. Vegetarianism is a strong suit of Indian cuisine. 

What is your idea of innovation when it comes to food? 

Innovation has to come from a very cerebral place, and understanding the dish you are trying to innovate, the cuisine you are trying to innovate with, the ingredient you are trying to work with, or the technique you are trying to use-understanding the why of everything is very essential in trying to either innovate, modernize, or bring something into the 21st century. I think innovation is not separate from or different from consciously thinking about food. 

What are your favourite spices to use?

It is difficult to choose one spice. Every dish demands different spices, so it is hard to choose. 

What are your must-try recommendations when visiting "GAA"? 

We have only one tasting menu at GAA, so there is not much choice left for diners. We carefully curate their entire experience based on their dietary restrictions and preferences, of course, but it's a chef-tasting menu, so it's already very well thought out for you. This way, we make it easy for everybody involved. 

Do we see the opening of a restaurant in India? 

Well, never say never! It's funny; you may go around the world but you always end up back home; it's like coming full circle, whether it's a restaurant or another effort to work with Indian food. I'm not sure it is yet, but we will see. I'm very glad that I get to work in India after so long; it's been 15 years since I left home, so it's a nice homecoming. So we will see where this all leads. 

What is your favourite food memory, and where is one place in India where you never miss dining? 

My favourite food memory is from a recent trip to Sindhudurg with my parents and husband, where we stayed at a homestay called Machli and I got to spend two days in the kitchen with the women of the house cooking Saraswati Brahmin food. For me, staying with the women and seeing how they cook and having to eat with them was one of the most incredible food experiences in recent years; it was quite a revelation, so that is probably my fondest food memory in recent years