Eating/Drinking  •  Food Porn

Summer Jammin’ with Gaggan Anand x Ana Ros

This summer, Chef Gaggan was back for another jam at his Lab, this time with Chef Ana Ros, the World’s No.1 Female Chef of the Restaurant Hiša Franko in Slovenia.

August 20, 2017
The last time we did a full feature on Gaggan Anand it was for the cover of our 2017 Issue 0, when Gaggan’s Lab premiered with a celebratory jam featuring Chef Goh of Maison Nature de la Goh, fittingly called #gohgan. That jam was unforgettable and (as Ben Robertson-Macleod put it) we were happy to be his guinea pigs (2Mag Issue 0 on newsstands: click here to buy). This summer’s jam with Chef Ana Ros delivered an altogether new experience: our taste buds were challenged and our food knowledge expanded to include the cheeses and fermentation processes native to Ana’s Slovenia.
Pumpkin + Curry Leaves
Rankings are just numbers, as any chef would tell you, but in Gaggan’s case his #1 ranking in Asia three years in a row (and #7 on the World’s 50 Best list) makes him a bona fide rockstar. In Ana’s case, as the #1 female chef in the world, running Hisa Franko with her sommelier husband, and mother of two children makes her a superwoman. A visit to her website will reveal her passion for the seasonal, the local, and the experimental at her husband’s family’s restaurant that she became head chef of years ago.

Any chef will tell you that chef life can be tough. In the case of the top chefs in the world, the pressure that comes with the accolades are expectations by diners to be completely and utterly blown away by each and every course that is presented to them. Thus, it is a tall order being a celebrity chef. To be in a room where two of them “jam” is always memorable, as they must listen to each other and collaborate. As Ana puts it: “Egos don’t flow; ideas flow” and we get to experience the magic it creates. The Gaggan x Ana collaboration unraveled like a slow jam: the pair taking us on a journey through taste, from Bangkok markets to Ana’s Slovenian highlands to Tokyo via a trip to Gaggan’s native India.

Such culinary journeys seem apt for Gaggan and Ana, each of whom have an episode on Netflix that respectively takes you to the chaos and sweat of Gujarat and the pastoral idyllic Slovenian Soca Valley. Ana is from Slovenia, and her restaurant is in Soca, just outside of Ljubljana, from which she brought a cheese that can only be found in the high altitude valley and is made from a fermentation process unique to Slovenia. She also brought vinegar that is indigenous to the region (she sprayed it on one of the courses), and a bag of buckwheat, one of Slovenia’s most loved (and commonly used) ingredients.
Ana Ros and Gaggan Anand present their Chef Jam menu

Interestingly, while each capitalized on this opportunity to explore culinary traditions, what we learned during the course of the meal was also that they both declined offers to be a celebrity chefs on TV, agreeing that, despite the financial bounty, such endeavors would distract them from what they love – cooking at their restaurants, initiating new projects, and exploring collaborations, including the jam that they were co-hosting.

In fact, Ana endured a journey just to deliver us this experience. She had been cooking in Mexico, got sick with stomach bug, missed a plane, and finally (after a journey that should have lasted not longer than twenty four hours but took double that time) discovered that she would only have a day to spend with Gaggan before the first seating of their Chef Jam. As she put it, cooking away from home takes her out of her comfort zone so this event presented her with a challenge that would enable her to grow, to learn, to create, the newly introduced chefs literally having to jam (as musician do) as they listened to each other and truly collaborated to make it work.  

The jam started with a lychee, lychee + jasmine to be exact. So pungent yet so feminine, it tasted of lychee—it was a lychee—but was infused with a heady sweet jasmine. From the start we could tell that Ana has a special touch: a way with produce that does not fear experimentation. What followed the lychee was a dish of pumpkin and passion fruit, so simple yet complex and such a surprising combination that just happened to work so well.

Sitting in Gaggan’s Lab is at once very social and the most intimate experience; there are only 12 seats and you become BFF’s with your neighbor even if you started of as complete strangers. The breathless “ooh’s” and “aah’s” over the course of the service cannot be ignored and the obligatory photography before each course becomes a collaboration at some point.

Some time after the series of vegetables came the Uni Gewar—there is no Gaggan meal without Uni and this was no exception. The crunchiness of the Gewar contrasted with smooth creaminess of the uni with a delicate spice that hinted at a journey taken to India.  All at the table probably thought in unison that we could do with another one of those.

And then came dish number 10, smack in the middle of the 21 courses, that would probably be the most surprising dish of all, the banana and chicken liver. This is what Ana used to feed her kids and what, during their brainstorm and planning, even surprised Gaggan: who would think to put banana and liver together?? It offered a balance of silkiness and a touch of sweetness and creamy saltiness that made Ana’s kids very lucky to grow up with this combo.  
Banana + Chicken Liver
Palak Mousse Siphon

Then to the palak or spinach, making me think of palak paneer, the signature Indian dish of mashed spinach with spices and Indian cottage cheese. This version used the Slovenian cheese that Ana had brought with her. Its intensity, smokiness, and spiciness (mainly from the cheese) had little to do with the typical spice with which palak is typically made. As far away as Slovenia and India may be to each other, discovering that Slovenian cheese works as spice, as paneer in Indian Palak reveals something universal indeed.

The last main dish, a Lobster soufflé type curry, was presented with drama: the lights went out as the chefs lit up the leaves that gave the lobster wrapped in banana leaves their smokiness. For a moment in pitch black, then all we could then see were flickering flames. It felt like a primitive ritual, like after a journey of a dozen different dishes we had arrived at another place where such an experience would take place: a fire would be started and we would feed on a dish that is made from fire, the ingredients from the sea and the air feeding the fire. As we opened up our parcels, Ana went around sprinkling buckwheat on top, a gift from earth. It was kind of magical: a grand finale to the mains.

What was left were the five dessert courses. Desserts at Gaggan are not often what they seem. There is as much nature as science here as the fruits go through a metamorphosis.  A muscat grape of the Japanese kind is sliced, freeze-dried, and then dipped into… something. And for the finale it was back to the lychee (it was lychee season after all), a delicate fruit yet strong and presented with a mysterious secret. Normally, the lychee has a hard black seed that you spit out: in our finale, that seed was replaced by a coffee bean. The freshness of the lychee in contrast with the sharp bitterness of the bean was the perfect ending.
Lobster Paturi
Lychee & Coffee
To this jam there was also a top layer of wine pairings by Vladimir Kojic, who hails from Serbia, like Slovenia also in the Balkans. His choice of wines, all weird and wonderful, surprised us often: wines most of us had never tasted put a complex twist on Gaggan’s and Ana’s collaboration.

That night was the very last seating, and afterwards Ana would go on a street food adventure with Gaggan, followed by a trip to the beach the day after. So we were perhaps not the first guinea pigs to this lab series but the privileged last: those who were served the final version of the experiment. Much like a live performance, what we experienced was a live jam, and in the true nature of jams, adrenaline rushes and little room for error, the chefs performed and our experience was unique. It was pure theatre, and with theatre there is a beginning and an end.
As with all great performances, you are left with memories that seep into your dreams. The banana/chicken liver combination and the uni gewar were, indeed, the stuff food dreams are made of. And all great summer jams remain memorable over the years, so we expect that, like #Gohgan, Gaggan x Ana (#Ganana?!) will become a part of our food dreams. We look forward to next summer’s jam at Gaggan’s Lab (while it still exists!)