What foods from your childhood have influenced you? "I love my street food. In India, we don't have the pavement to walk on - it's all taken up by food vendors. I remember this guy who made a raw mango salad with lots of spices and another who made his own ice cream. There used to be a queue after school [but] being a bully, I wouldn't wait. At lunch break, this guy selling samosas was not allowed inside, so he'd give us his samosas through a small hole near the school gates and we'd give him our money.
"Mum cooks a lot. The best thing my mum makes is this yogurt with lentil cakes - to make them soft is an art. Other mums would be jealous because their children would come to my house just to eat that. That yogurt inspired me to create my signature amuse bouche - yogurt explosion - in my restaurant [Gaggan, in Bangkok, Thailand, which serves Indian food and specialises in molecular gastronomy]. It looks like an egg yolk but it's yogurt."
Gaggan ranks No3 and No17 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants and World's Best lists, respectively. What's it like? "The restaurant is simple. It's like I'm welcoming you to my house. We don't have a dress code - many customers wear a Hawaiian [shirt] and slippers, as Bangkok is hot. We have a laid-back, Thai-style service - it's the land of smiles and they don't fake it. The food is experimental. If you like 60 per cent of the menu, I'm happy. My guest is my guinea pig."
What's your take on molecular gastronomy? "We present you food. We don't present you an idea. We serve this dish called Down to Earth, which features egg, mushroom, truffle - a common combination - but we use science to make it good. The egg is cooked at 62 degrees Celsius - it's very scientific, it's 62 but not 63 - then we have mushrooms sautéed with chilli and topped with truffle foam. Everybody loves this dish. All my dishes are made with techniques that improve the food."
Where did the idea to modernise Indian cuisine come from? "The whole idea came when I went to El Bulli's lab, the Alicia Foundation. There, I came to understand that what I thought was cooking is not cooking: it was fry, steam, sauté and roast. Now, it's all about sous vide, liquid nitrogen and foam - there are so many things you can do. There's no right or wrong as long as it makes sense in your mouth. The food is the hero. I relaxed my mind from being a chef with a lot of stress to be a passionate cook who creates unique dishes."