Celebrity chef Gaggan Anand shares some of his life philosophies and why chaos is essential to creativity
It was a rainy afternoon at Craig Road, and we are at a media tasting held at the newly opened Ms Maria & Mr Singh, a Mexican-Indian restaurant opened by Bangkok-based Indian celebrity chef Gaggan Anand, in collaboration with The Proper Concepts Collective.
Just as the media dug into their biryani dishes, a tall man in a Nirvana t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops arrived with small silver luggage. Getting off his car ride without an umbrella, Anand shakes off raindrops from his arms and makes his way into the restaurant. Even if you do not know who he is, the rugged Anand grabs attention with his larger-than-life attitude and positivity.
Ms Maria & Mr Singh serves Mexican-Indian cuisine, offering diners some of Anand’s Michelin-starred dishes at a reasonable price
Speaking to Options, the rock music loving, vinyl collecting chef has barely had any sleep. Singapore was the third country he has been to that week, he frequently travels the world for inspiration for his new creations and to experience different food, ingredients and cooking methods from around the world. Anand was in Japan earlier in the week, then dropped by his home in Bangkok before hitting the shores of Singapore again.
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He likens himself to a dog on the hunt when he travels. Anand says: “I sniff, similar to hunting dogs that hunt for truffles. Dogs are the best sniffers, and I stay around for good food with flavours. Culture attracts me, and that’s why I can’t stay. I was depressed during Covid-19 [lockdown] because I couldn’t eat the food that I eat all over the world.”
“So, I will fly, and I have to because if you put me down in one space, someone will explode. There will be too much energy.”
Rock and roll
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Anand is a star in the global culinary scene, frequently challenging the industry norms and known for his often eccentric poses on camera. The 44-year-old — noted for pushing the boundaries in cooking techniques while taking a tongue-incheek approach to fine dining — also draws inspiration for his cooking from “music, sex and madness” and is not afraid to shout it out loud. “It’s called rock and roll,” he says.
Anand also claims to see beauty in chaos. Through the loud, messy scenarios, he thrives and the constant buzz and electricity from the chaos give him the energy to keep moving. “Gaggan is a wild cow,” Anand jokes, adding that he thrives in an “organised chaos” involving alcohol and broken things.
While partying is something Anand believes is good for morale, this new restaurant is serious business, and Anand intends for it to stay. “This restaurant is not going to be a one-time hit. It is not Gangnam Style. This is [similar to] a proper album with good songs, and you can listen to the greatest hits repeatedly,” he says, as he references some of his favourite rock bands like Foo Fighters, Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses.
Anand now sees Singapore as his second home after he started his pop-up stint at Mandala Club from November 2021 to June 2022 (where lunch was priced at $288 a person). During his temporary period in the citystate, he fell in love with the small country and its mixed cultures all in one space.
With the new Ms Maria & Mr Singh opened in the Tanjong Pagar district, Anand says that we would see more of him in Singapore, which he says is his second home now. “Singapore revived me! Singapore has always been lucky for me, my World’s Top 50 Best restaurants results and all.” Anand also adds that he will be equally splitting his time between Singapore and Bangkok — if he’s not flying elsewhere.
“I like that I can be in shorts and enter almost any restaurant in Singapore,” he says, reiterating that there is no dress code at Ms Maria & Mr Singh, and the restaurant welcomes all. And if you want to eat with your hands, go right ahead.
An unlikely marriage
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Anand came up with the idea behind Ms Maria & Mr Singh during the Covid-19 lockdown period. “I have been stuck alone during the quarantine, and that was when I came up with the idea and wrote the story of Ms Maria and Mr Singh,” he says, adding that he had a lot of fun crafting a cross-cultural concept based on a fictitious origin story of a love affair between Mexican girl Ms Maria and Indian boy Mr Singh.
Ms Maria & Mr Singh first opened in Bangkok amid the pandemic in 2020. Anand says that this is not just a more affordable concept compared to his namesake Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant; it is also a no-frills eating joint that serves easily packable food to take away, which was a big thing during the pandemic. The Bangkok outlet has won rave reviews, while the Singapore outpost is fully booked for weeks to come.
Shared DNA: Bangkok-based Indian celebrity chef Gaggan Anand (left), with collaborator Leong Sheen Jet, managing director of The Proper Concepts
Speaking of love affairs, Ms Maria & Mr Singh in Singapore also started with an unlikely “marriage” between Anand and The Proper Concepts Collective, which managing director Leong Sheen Jet says was destined to happen. The latter adds that just before his booking appointment to try Anand’s food at the Mandala Club, he was just out grabbing coffee with his business partner. And just as he said, “I can’t wait to dine at Gaggan tomorrow,” the chef walked into the café.
Leong took this opportunity to walk up to Anand and start a conversation — and the rest was history. Within four months from the time they started speaking at the café, Ms Maria & Mr Singh was born.
Leong has always been a fan of Anand’s food, even before the 30-year-old got into the restaurant business. “I feel we share the same DNA, except he is more refined and experimental while we focus more on the middle market. Gaggan is a rebel, and we also like to go against the grain in our concepts.”
So, how is the relationship between the two of you? “You don’t have to be with the big shots; sometimes it’s about the passion. And I saw that in these young Singaporeans who reminded me of me when I was younger,” Anand says, referring to Leong.
“I was open to collaborating because I saw how they ran their restaurant Rappu and how smart they are. They are making restaurant-level food with just four rice cookers! And I like how they treated their entire team like family. Because that’s exactly how we do it at Gaggan restaurants.”
The chef adds that treating the team of staff is of the utmost importance. Be it through throwing parties to show appreciation, Anand continues: “Real happiness has a good place to work. You work about nine hours daily, and it better be enjoyable.”
He has only one thing to say to people who want to try out Ms Maria & Mr Singh. “Don’t just expect amazing food, but expect us to give you a perfect time.”
A taste of two countries
The 40-seat restaurant Ms Maria and Mr Singh does what chef Gaggan Anand says it would — the prices are wallet-friendly but the signature food is exciting. Anand says he “wanted one restaurant that doesn’t impose my ‘A-plus’ prices” but instead “a restaurant where people can enjoy my dishes at ‘C’ price”.
The food itself marries homestyle Mexican and Indian cooking, a dynamic blend of flavours and traditions reproducing a menu that is influenced by both cultures — something that is also reflected in the restaurant’s interiors and menu designs.
When asked why Mexican and Indian, Anand explains that both cultures have a lot of similarities, in the sense that both cultures have similar colourful food and use similar ingredients in their dishes, such as beans and coriander. Anand adds that both cultures are bread lovers, with the Mexicans and their tortillas, while the Indians have their naans.
Ms Maria & Mr Singh was also launched on Oct 24, coinciding with the Indian festival Deepavali and just a few days before the Mexican celebration Day of the Dead. Anand says both holidays are similar because they are colourful festivals with lots of lights and food. “Both are also night festivals,” he adds.
Expect a good mix of hearty and full Mexican and Indian flavours here: Some unique dishes include the Papdi Chaat ($28), a rendition of the popular starter at Anand’s namesake restaurant in Bangkok. This yoghurt explosion of flavours features the popular Indian street food made with crisp fried puri, sweet and sour chutneys, yoghurt and sev.
Cold Curry Ceviche
The Cold Curry Ceviche ($20) was a unique dish comprising juicy Hokkaido scallops and crispy corn in a tangy curry sauce. The Truffle Quesadilla ($28) marries both Mexican and Indian flavours as it features a Mexican flour tortilla, Indian paneer cooked with spices and chillies, Emmental and mozzarella cheese, black truffle paste and a drizzle of truffle honey.
Inspired by the classic Baja Fish Tacos, the Maria Singh Tacos ($18 for two pieces) is a fun twist inspired by two different styles of sauces, one each representing Ms Maria & Mr Singh’s favourite ingredients. In this dish, the barramundi fish in the taco is served two ways: Either with Ms Maria’s or Mr Singh’s secret marinade. Enjoy this with Ms Maria and Mr Singh shots ($16 for both) specially designed to accompany the tacos.
The Surf and Turf Biryani ($28) is a must-try. This mixed rice fish is made with a medley of fragrant Indian spices and long-grain biryani rice, accompanied by prawns, scallops and beef and was specially created for the Singapore outlet.
Pair the Biryani with the decadent Gaggan’s Crab Curry ($32), a coconut and coriander-based curry dish combined with shallots, tomatoes, tamarind and juicy, chunky crab meat. This dish has been a Anand signature since 2016 and has appeared in several pop-ups.
Mango Yuzu Ball
For dessert, the Avocado Falooda ($16) is a colourful and fun way to end your meal. The picture-perfect dessert featured vanilla ice cream, avocado mousse, coconut jelly and basil seeds layered in a glass cup and topped with lemon foam. The Mango Yuzu Ball ($24) — featured in MasterChef Singapore 2011 — was inspired by a classic Gaggan dessert from 2011 and comprises an Alphonso mango and yuzu base, chopped mangoes and topped with white chocolate snow.
Bookings may take effort because of their popularity, but plan your trip and experience the love story between Ms Maria & Mr Singh. You can place your reservations at www.mariaandsingh.sg.
Ms Maria & Mr Singh Singapore
43 Craig Road Singapore 089691
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm (from Friday to Sunday)
Dinner: 6pm – 10:30pm (from Wednesday to Sunday)