OITA - In the competitive world of Asian cooking, Gaggan Anand reigns supreme: For four of the past five years, his main restaurant, the eponymous Gaggan, has placed first on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. In the world rankings, the restaurant, located in Bangkok, Thailand, places number five. He is, quite emphatically, a chef at the top of his game.
The shock, then, that accompanied his 2016 announcement that he will be closing down Gaggan to open a new restaurant in Fukuoka Prefecture in 2021, was palpable.
The new restaurant, expected to be called GohGan, will be a collaboration between Anand and Fukuoka-based chef Takeshi “Goh” Fukuyama, who currently runs La Maison de la Nature Goh, ranked at No. 48 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Last month, the pair teamed up for two nights at the Umitamago Aquarium in Oita Prefecture to put on the 10th installment of their GohGan pop-up event. The event was designed to promote both their upcoming venture and the cuisine of Oita Prefecture, which is collectively known as Bungo ryōri.
“We met four years ago, and then three years back we cooked for a mutual friend’s surprise birthday party. (Fukuyama) wanted to make curry, but didn’t know how,” says Anand before the Oita event. “So I said I’d make the curry, but he had to make the rice. In Japanese, rice is gohan, and so when we put the two together, it became GohGan — it was our first jam session.”
Though the idea of one-off collaboration isn’t a rarity within cooking, many chefs — especially those that rank at the top of the global leagues — are defined by their singular vision; the idea of permanent collaboration is counterintuitive. And, looking at the two chefs, they don’t at first seem an obvious pairing: Anand is fast-talking, outgoing, almost hyperactive, while Fukuyama seems more reserved, at times shy, but with an easy laugh. However, Anand protests the idea that they cannot work together.
“We have many common factors, not just how we cook, but our birthdays are four or six days apart, so we have very similar views of life,” says Anand. “We also trust each other in the kitchen — the first time we cooked together, we made massive mistakes, but those mistakes turned out to be the best dishes. The cuisine we cook together has no definition. I call it performance … punk. We are the punksters of food.”
Fukuyama is equally positive about the partnership. “I’ve been cooking the same food for 15 or 16 years,” he says. “But when I started cooking with Gaggan, I felt a new energy within me, a new challenge and desire for cooking, which motivates me every time we cook together.”
In the kitchen, the pair’s affinity is much clearer. Anand arrived in Oita the Friday before the event, and they had little over 24 hours to put together a menu and instruct a newly assembled team of local chefs in how to prepare and cook it for 80 guests over two sittings, using local and seasonal ingredients including kabosu citrus, onsen (hot spring) water from Beppu, and pork, chicken and beef from across the prefecture.
The results are outstanding. The first course — of 15 — is a delicate arrangement of a white chocolate egg filled with a liquid Bloody Mary mix, served alongside a singular freeze-dried tomato. Later, Fukuyama presents a variation of his signature dish, a truffle deep-fried in charcoal and filled with goat cheese and chili. The body of the meal closes with Anand’s curry dish, the sauce a sublime combination of ginger, fresh green chilies, egg and onion, served atop a bed of gobō (burdock root)-infused rice.
Anand admits to always having wanted to collaborate with a Japanese chef and, while this passion for Japan is not unusual for a chef — the country and its cuisine have inspired many top chefs — his city of choice for the new restaurant, Fukuoka, is more questionable: Although it is Japan’s sixth largest city, and the fastest growing outside of Tokyo, compared to Bangkok, Fukuoka is far less international. To me, it seems a risk, but Anand is bullish about their decision.
“The restaurant is pretty much completely unplanned at the moment,” says Anand. “All we know is we want it to be in Fukuoka and that the restaurant is only going to be 16 seats and open for just six months of the year, extremely exclusive and extremely limited — it’s not for the masses. Even if it was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we’d still make good business.
“My wife tells me it’s a midlife crisis to do this at the peak of my career,” he continues, “but I think we’ll create a new future of cuisine. When we open, it’ll be 24 months in the making, extremely planned — not like tonight — and it will be a product of GohGan. I want to use neuropsychology to tamper with your perceptions, to make you love food you never thought you would.”
To that end, Anand and Fukuyama’s current vision of GohGan goes beyond just a restaurant, to an experiential setting that includes overnight stays at accommodation on-site.
“Fine dining at the moment is so much about checking boxes,” says Anand. “People fly into a big city, spend the day shopping, seeing the sights and arrive at the restaurant exhausted and don’t really enjoy the meal. Our idea is to create a restaurant and a hotel. The first day you arrive and relax and only on the second day do you eat our dinner. Only if you live it can you eat it. It will be a performance.”
For more information on Gaggan, including reservations, visit www.eatatgaggan.com. La Maison de la Nature Goh can be reserved at www.gohfukuoka.com. The pair will continue to do popup events as GohGan in the lead up to the opening of their new restaurant.