If You Haven't Eaten At A Michelin-Grade Popup In India, Have You Really Eaten?

World-renowned chefs from different parts of the world have been making their way to India for popups for a while, but the trend is only getting bigger

Published On Apr 02, 2024 | Updated On Apr 08, 2024


Having watched the former MasterChef Australia judges’ trio, Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston, from the very first episode of the show, I had always hoped to meet them some day. That encounter finally happened in my own city, barely 20 minutes from my home when I had a meal they created. But I wasn’t surprised because they are not the only ones to cook up a storm in India’s fine dining space. 

Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston

Recently I met with Chef Ana Ros, a world-renowned Slovenian chef who runs a three Michelin star restaurant, Hiša Franko in Slovenia when she visited New Delhi and Mumbai in February this year for a two-day pop up in each city. Over an hour as she sipped her wine, she told me how excited she is to be in this country and has tweaked a few dishes in the menu after seeing what’s available in the market. 

In the last couple of years top chefs and restaurants from across the globe have made their way here to curate exclusive meals with not more than 60 covers where they recreate the gastronomic experience at the chef’s restaurant back home. 

The Summer Feast Salad by Ana Ros, presented at her recent pop-up in India 

Among those who have come are icons like Massimo Bottura, whose three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, in Modena near Florence in Italy, with just 12 tables, usually has a mind-boggling six-month wait list. He’s coming to the capital city yet again this month on April 19-20 at The Leela Palace New Delhi. 

Chef Massimo Bottura

Others who have created a buzz include the three former MasterChef Australia judges, who did a three-city tour in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru in November, where they curated not just meals but also held masterclasses. Savouring their creations was nothing short of a dream for me. George’s Olive Oil Poached Tuna, Gary’s Lemon Ricotta Riviolo and Matt’s Arabian Gulf Prawns were not only all delicious but also seemed familiar since I’ve seen each one of them cook these dishes on their show. However, it wasn’t just the food that created the magic – it was meeting the three of them that added to the whole experience. 

Incidentally, Gary is back in Bengaluru on April 5-6 for a popup at The Ritz Carlton. 

Shrikant Wakharkar, area vice-president of Hyatt Hotels North and general manager, Hyatt Regency Delhi with chef Gaggan Anand during his popup in the city

Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok came to New Delhi last year for a 20-day residency, Chef Daniel Humm from Eleven Madison Park served a ten-course plant-based menu in collaboration with Masque in Mumbai while Chef ThiTid Tassanakajohn (Chef Ton) of Le Du, that was rated No. 15 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 in Bangkok, did a pop-up in Delhi. 

The prices of each meal are not easy on the pocket and can range anywhere from INR 15,000 to a whopping INR 60,000 per person for a single set course meal. What brings them to India and will the trend continue? 

All these chefs are backed by brands and companies that put in all the hard work of getting them to India. As Indians travel more widely, their understanding and knowledge of international cuisines, globally acclaimed chefs and the nuances of their cooking has deepened, creating a huge appetite for new culinary experiences. 

Chef Ana Ros

The Covid-19 pandemic also played a role in fuelling the trend, and there was suddenly this huge potential of pop-ups after virtual masterclasses with renowned chefs during the lockdowns became a success. The next obvious step was to bring them to India so that people could actually enjoy their food. “We convinced Gary Mehigan to do a dinner experience and took him to Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. It was a huge success, so we planned more places and now we've done a total 10 cities with him,” says Vaibhav Bahl, co-founder of a culinary community that organises food popups. 

He says people also wanted more Michelin star chefs to come to India because that’s something the country doesn’t have. 

Chef Ton

The trend is getting bigger as India, a rising economy, now figures prominently on the radar of global chefs, who are equally interested in getting exposure to India. “If you look at famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay or Alain Ducasse, they all have a presence in cities like Bangkok, Singapore or Dubai. For some reason, India had always been forgotten,” points out Raaj Sanghvi, the CEO of another organisation that often hosts international chefs in India, in collaboration with hotels. “Now, I feel it’s India's moment. Everybody wants to come here, there's enough money, there's appetite and demand,” he adds. 

When these chefs come to India, they are very particular about what they bring with them. From ingredients to produce, every single element is thought of in detail because their reputation is on the line. They also arrive with a big team. These meals are usually hosted at five-star hotels who go out of their way to make the chef feel at home. 

When Gaggan Anand came last year to New Delhi with a team of 14 people, he did a 20-day long residency at Hyatt Regency in Delhi where he curated a 25-course menu. The setting closely mirrored the ambience and décor at Gaggan, his restaurant in Bangkok. In fact, the companies who bring them try to recreate the entire experience of dining at the chef’s restaurant back home, from customising the menu, chairs to the tablecloths and napkins. People are willing to cough up the steep price because a similar experience overseas would turn out far more expensive. Also, here the chef engages with the guests - he talks, tells stories and clicks pictures with them making it a once in a lifetime experience. 

From A Meal by Chef Ton

When I met the former MasterChef Australia trio recently in my city, I got a picture with them. They spoke to the guests about their trip to India making the experience a lot more special and interactive. “I love coming to India. I don’t change anything much from my menu because Indians are very experienced eaters,” says Chef Ton of Le Du in Bangkok, who did a pop-up at The Leela Ambience Gurugram in January 2023. “The only challenge I face is that the ingredients are different, so we have to adjust, but that in a way is the learning curve for us as well,” he adds. 

The dishes that left a mark on my palate were lobster with fermented bean and pani puri poh-tak – a twist on the Indian favourite that came with beetroot, potato and mushroom. They were not just delicious but different from the Thai food I had sampled earlier. 

Oops I Dropped A Lemon Tart by Massimo Bottura

The pop-ups work well for the hotels hosting the chef as well. “Besides the commercial aspect of having him, it helps us cement our position as a forward-thinking F&B destination. It gives guests that additional edge and unique experience,” according to Anupam Dasgupta, general manager, The Leela Palace New Delhi. He says that for their teams to be able to see, watch, observe, and learn from renowned chefs is a value that they cherish for a lifetime. 

This trend is here to stay and it’s only going to get bigger. According to the Godrej Food Trend Report 2023, restaurants will use these pop-ups to test new ideas, concepts, themes, cuisines, and formats, within existing and emerging markets. 

But it is not just a one-way street. The chefs too want to see what India has to offer. “Every chef also wants to come here and learn about our techniques. Everybody's very intrigued about this country, especially when it comes to food. That's why I think that it's time for India to emerge as a culinary power,” says Sanghvi. 

As pop-ups become more popular, expect more world-renowned chefs and Michelin star restaurants to make their way to India over the coming months and years. 

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