Last November, when the MICHELIN Guide announced the newest recipients of accolades in Thailand, there were two names that stood out for being the first of their kind. Chef Garima Arora of Gaa became the first Indian woman to head a MICHELIN Star restaurant. Meanwhile, Chef Jim Ophorst of PRU Restaurant at Trisara was the first and only venue in Phuket to receive a MICHELIN Star. For two nights only in Bangkok, the unexpected duo is set to combine their talents into one special menu that pays homage to the essential art of cooking by flame.
Born in Mumbai, Chef Garima Arora started her career as a journalist before going on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She has worked with Gordon Ramsay, René Redzepi and Bangkok’s own Gaggan Anand before heading her own kitchen on Lang Suan road. Restaurant Gaa is known for its modern menu inspired by Indian techniques, and more recently, the elevation of meatless dishes.
“She is a very humble person and an amazing chef,” Ophorst says when asked about Arora. “Being a woman chef from India isn't easy at all, but if you see how she has worked her way up to do what she believes is good, it is very impressive and I think she deserves everything she has earned.”
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Originally from Honselersdijk in the Netherlands, Ophorst—who also goes by the name Chef Jimmy—started PRU in 2016 with the idea of creating a 100% locally-sourced menu. Inspired by the diverse ingredients of Thailand and taking on the challenge of planting much of his own produce, PRU’s menu uses homegrown flavours in a completely contemporary way.
Arora also heaps praise on her collaborator: “Jimmy is considered one of the most respected chefs in Thailand. It is also his reputation of being a calm and resourceful chef that makes me look forward to working and learning from him.”
The daring menu is a combination of both the chefs’ strengths and is aptly titled ‘Playing with Fire’ as Ophorst explains. “Both of our cooking techniques use open wood fire, so we believe this would be a great theme for this special event. Plus, Garima has a beautiful wood fire grill.”
Arora adds: “At Gaa, we use a lot of charcoal and smoke cooking already as a part of Indian cuisine. However, our flavours are not Indian. I think the beauty really lies in how we incorporate smokiness in our dishes. It is much more subtle and never in your face.”
From Gaa, diners will get a taste of one of the restaurant's most unique offerings, the Beef and Grilled Milk Skin. “This dish is a perfect example of how we use our grill,” reveals Arora. “You still get the element of smoke but in a more feminine and subtle way.” In addition, the popular Jackfruit and Pickles, made of grilled unripe jackfruit that has long been a favourite of vegetarian diners, is making an appearance for the night.
Chef Jimmy adds: “I've heard a lot about the jackfruit, that's why I asked her if we can put that dish as a main course on our menu together. We both love to cook with vegetables and fruit.” From PRU, Ophorst is also highlighting a much-loved dish. “One of my old favorites will return for this special event - the burned leek. It was on PRU’s menu a while ago and we would like to showcase this dish once again. Another special dish is the roasted Surat Thani river prawn. I discovered this beautiful product for the first time when I visited my wife's hometown in Surat Thani and she took me to a very local restaurant next to the river. They pull the prawns from the water and grill it straight away for you. We use prawns that come from the same river and we simply grill it. It’s served with a sauce created from dried seafood found in the same area.”
With both chefs in the kitchen, the menu pairs each respective restaurant's most popular dishes along with exciting new additions. Diners will be introduced to rare flavours like Isaan Almonds, unique fermentation processes and a completely new Seaweed Tart dessert with Wild Eggfruit and Finger Lime. The dinner will be served with wine and champagne pairings.
This special collaboration will take place on 21 and 22 August 2019 at Restaurant Gaa as a private event.