CHEF JAM with Gaggan Anand x Vladimir Mukhin
When Gaggan Anand invited Vladimir Mukhin of White Rabbit Moscow to jam with him in his Bangkok-based Lab, the results were unforgettable even with the vodka haze.
November 19, 2017
In case you haven’t read about Gaggan’s chef jams and his Gaggan Lab, here is a recap: Gaggan opened his Gaggan Lab in 2016 and jammed with Chef Goh of Maison Nature de la Goh, the subject of our cover story to our Issue 0, it was aptly named “Gohgan”. The Lab is where the Chef experiments, where he creates his new dishes with the kind of molecular gastronomic equipment that one would expect to see in a science lab. In the Cover Story to Issue 0, Ben Robertson Macleod compared Gaggan to Dr. Frankenstein, the genius scientist who was able to create a new life form, that is what Gaggan does, he creates these new dishes and challenges our perception of food, in what he describes as Progressive Indian Cooking, we think he has gone far beyond this description. It is not just about the food anymore (which is always spectacular) but the experience and the very human collaborations that he initiates and thus it is about the journey. Following from “Gohgan” was “Gaggana” with Chef Ana Rose of Hiso Franko in Slovenia. That was a delicate journey that took us to the high altitudes of Slovenia down to the streets of Guajarat via the markets of Bangkok. This third jam with Vladimir Mukhin of White Rabbit Moscow #23 on the World’s Best 50 List was called “MOTHER RUSSIA”. It was a jam between a scientist and a magician, what the white rabbit evokes is the idea of magic and mystery but also to follow the white rabbit to an unexpected realm, a hint to what was before us that night.
There is much to be said about how a shot of vodka at the start of a meal can put all in a jovial mood. Vladimir explained that even his grandmother would have it start with this ritual and in Russia it is about vodka and caviar. That is how we started our meal and immersion into Vladimir’s version of the cuisine of his homeland. Vladimir then explained that the other staples especially during those harsh winters are lardo and black bread. He showed us, that we thought to be a wooden tray filled with lardo, or pork fat. He then went on to explain his Jewish origin, as we all know, Jews don’t eat pork, for a second I thought that maybe lardo is an exception? After all, it’s not the meat right? Just the fat, anyway I quickly dismissed this thought as I prepared myself to take my vodka shot and eat caviar on that chunk of fat on black bread. It was delicious. Then Vladimir the magician appeared and said, well, actually, it’s not lardo at all but the magical meat of Thai coconut that has been cut like lardo, thus shaved into what would resemble fatty lardo strips and seasoned with all the herbs and spices. It was genius. So that was the first rabbit out of the hat, it was white, smooth, delicious and actually completely and utterly healthy, vegan even. After discovering how to use Instagram LIVE stories for the first time, we noticed that Gaggan disappeared and Vladmir was left with his team of chefs to entertain us.
The next dish was called OKROSHKA, which is actually a cold Russian soup. Vladimir’s version would have thinly sliced sashimi that had been marinated in beet juice on a bed of cucumbers with splatters of beet juice. It tasted Russian, or what one imagines Russian food to taste, like a Russian Salad to my American companion. That’s because the key ingredients to the dish are quintessentially Russian. Vladimir’s version had a delicate lightness to it. This was paired with wine by the sommelier of the night, experimental and fresh, his touch was classical in the pairing and the wine would be the perfect top layer to the cuisine.
There is no Gaggan meal without a sumptuous uni course, and when Gaggan does uni, he means business, and when Vladimir does uni, this too is no joke. For this course, Vladimir served us Japanese uni, the best of it available on a bed of a puree of sea buckthorn berries flown in from Russia. It tasted like something from the sea but also from the land, it was umami and fresh, the perfect hybrid. Whilst we fawned over our uni porn Vladimir did a caviar shuffle before us showing that there are 3 types of caviar which he will be presenting in the next dish, oestrogen, pike and trout caviar. What he did not ready us for was how spectacular the next dish would be despite its simplicity. Red cabbage, a humble staple in the Russian diet is blanched and covered with a sauce of champagne, butter and the three caviars. The juxtaposition of flavours here was so unique and completely memorable. Every last bite was divine.
The relationship between Thailand and Russia has always been an amicable one, King Rama V sent his first son there to be schooled and to learn the ways of the Tsars. We continued to have close relations with the Tsars of Russia until their fall. Today, we are one of the few countries in the world to have a unique bilateral agreement, which gives us a visa exemption to enter Russia, and vice versa. So from Moscow back to Bangkok we go with Vladimir as he gives us his interpretation of Tom Yum. A tomato and grapes blanched to perfection and a tom yum sauce. Its texture was light, like a fresh spring day with tomatoes and grapes, the latter of the perfect Japanese variation, then sharpness of the Thai herbs and chilli with the creaminess of the coconut milk. Vladimir refers to our humble and abundant coconut as the magical plant for what one coconut can offer is incredible from its oil to its meat to its water to its milk, its husks even a source of energy. When it is cooked it is different, when smoked it is another. Then there was the cod and the shell with the sea water. It felt primal yet refined, so refined. Then there was the frog, yes frog can taste of chicken, this frog, tasted like the most tender well marinated chicken ever. Then the little balls that burst in your mouth that were on the frog’s skin, the meat of finger lime. Nothing quite prepares you for the moment they pop.
Apart from uni there is curry that one associates with Gaggan. Vladimir gives us his take of Gaggan’s famous crab curry, Russian crab done Gaggan-style. It was curry, deconstructed. After tipping the plate and drinking the curry jus Gaggan made a return and we knew that the menu was about to make a turn. And he makes it with his lamb chop, like a tandoori lamb but dark and chocolaty the perfect prelude to the final savoury course, the Crab Curry. When Gaggan Anand is in the house and preparing the curry, it is a performance. What one must also realise also that this dish is a coveted dish, famous the world over. Where’s the best crab curry in the world? Answer: Gaggan. Nuff said. So the moment we were all waiting for, crab curry with succulent morsels of crab and Indian curry cooked to perfection.
Another shot of vodka followed by a dessert of Russian sour cream and black bread, this was creamy perfection, like a bread pudding but without the stodge and the cream too with a distinct taste, sweet and sour at once. Finally, the last course, watermelon chunks that looked like strawberries. By this stage it was unclear whether it was the vodka and wine haze was in full force and it was very difficult to distinguish and understand what was being served. So watermelon that looks like strawberries does not come as a surprise, it was rather fitting. The only sense that was left by the end of the meal was that it was delicious and how fun it was. A bottle of mescal appeared as an accompaniment to the hybrid watermelon and finger limes that Gaggan then squeezed onto our hands. It must have been the finger lime and the sensation of squeezing it to get the tiny little seeds out that made the Mezcal more appearing. Then another shot.
By then I think we had been transported to Russia or maybe it was Mexico via Mothership Russia. It didn’t matter where we were for we followed the white rabbit and had a meal that stands out in our memories the morning and even weeks after. It brings to mind the white rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, her journey to Wonderland started when a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat speaks to her and she decides to follow him down a rabbit hole, by following the white rabbit, it led her to a strange and fantastical place. Just how that night Gaggan and Vladimir led us to Mother Russia, a strange fantastical place of taste wonders right in the middle of Bangkok city.