There's no conspiracy to keep women out of the kitchen: Garima Arora, India’s first woman Michelin star chef

The chef also said that being a woman in the kitchen means one must work all that much harder.

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Chef Garima Arora is India’s first woman with a Michelin star.
Chef Garima Arora, India’s first woman with a Michelin star, believes that while more women are seen in restaurant kitchens than before, they have to work harder to make a mark in a male-dominated industry.

Last year, Garima Arora became the first Indian woman to win a Michelin star. A pupil of star chef Gaggan Anand, Arora says she’s having “too much fun” at her Thailand restaurant, Gaa, which opened its doors two years ago.

For the former journalist (she covered the pharmaceuticals industry), she found her direction in life after a trip to Singapore. “When I returned, I gathered my family and cooked them a big hotpot. It was such a fun evening and I realised then that what I really wanted to do was talk to people through the medium of food,” she tells ETPanache over email.


Arora shares with us her feelings on women who have to choose between career and family, and the pressures of owning an award-winning restaurant.

Where were you when you found out that you had been awarded a Michelin star?
I was with my core team at the restaurant when I received the call. I was ecstatic. The first thing I did after receiving the news was call my father.

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To celebrate the news, we had a beer pong session. I don’t know how this idea came about, but my team pulled it off that night converting our bar table into a beer pong table. To be honest, the news didn’t sink in until several days later.

What does the star mean to you?
When I opened the restaurant, I didn’t do it hoping to win awards.

But I’m certainly very humbled by the recognition that the Michelin star has afforded me. My hope is that this opens doors to both women and men to pursue their dreams. Both the Michelin star and the Asia’s 50 Best have been very exciting, but now it’s business as usual for us. We celebrated the wins and got back to work the next day. They serve as a reminder for us to push harder.

Chef Garima Arora thinks Indian chaat is underrated.
Chef Garima Arora thinks Indian chaat is underrated.

A lot of chefs are faced with the pressure to maintain their star. Do you think the rating system needs to be updated?
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Personally, you do what you think is right and any accolade you get in the bargain is great. You just have to define your own parameter for success.

But how do you deal with pressure?
I work hard and choose to spend my energy on the right things.
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What is your take on why there aren’t more women in high level positions in the restaurant industry?
I don’t think there is any conspiracy to keep women out of the kitchen. Women are already here in this industry.

There are women in the entry-level position in the kitchen, but the truth is, it is very hard for them to stick around. At some point in their lives, they have to choose between working these crazy hours and having a family, and it is impossible to have both. Women are forced to make unrealistic choices.

How can we level the playing field for women?
Men and women are simply different. You cannot celebrate women for making unnatural choices or being more like a man. We have to give women space and resources to be who they are.


How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated industry? Did you face any hurdles?
I feel like being a woman has given me a skill-set that has its perceived strengths and drawbacks — but this shouldn’t be considered any different from what a man brings to the kitchen. Personally, I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the world who made it a point to make me feel welcome in the kitchen. I’ve been lucky enough to never personally experience discrimination. However, I am acutely aware of the fact that being a woman in the kitchen means one must work all that much harder. I have just been focused on what we want to achieve, rather than worry about whether something isn’t getting done because I’m a woman in a traditionally male-dominated space.

Underrated dish: Chaat

Overrated dish: Foie gras anything

Comfort food: Nachos and dosa

If you were a flavour what would you be? Anything umami!

Food trend you hate: I hate the word ‘fusion’

Food trend you love: Ethnic food

Food trend of 2019: Chefs championing local ingredients and natural wines

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