A Taste of Passion With Jiggs and Zorawar Kalra
Let me be brutally honest and confess that I am no foodie. So while the rest of the world does the popular Julie/Julia project after watching too many cooking shows, I’m the one who diligently orders a takeout from the nearest Chinese eatery.
After reading about food jargon like ‘molecular gastronomy’ and ‘progressive cuisines’, I met with the father-son duo — Jiggs and Zorawar Kalra, founder and MD, Massive Restaurants. My interaction, which took place at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, was not life-altering, but it did push me down the rabbit hole, and provided me with an immersive food adventure.
The sunny afternoon did nothing to cool off my nervousness as I strolled into the restaurant. A paralytic attack has confined Jiggs to a wheelchair. Much like the Stephen Hawking of Indian cuisine, he has made the journey and it’s his passion for life and food that fuels his spirit.
A few moments later, Jiggs is wheeled into the corner reserved for us, and I couldn’t have missed his baseball cap with his name embroidered in capital letters. “I can’t keep leaping into my pocket for visiting cards,” he remarked. Jiggs was famous for his turbans which he happened to design himself. “I used to wear colourful pastel shades…that was my forte. Kisi ne toh nazar laga hi de di and I suffered a stroke.” Forgive the stereotyping, but jovial and spot-on with his bawdy remarks, he is a quintessential sardar.
In the early ’70s, when people didn’t go out much and fine dining was not a part of the social agenda, Jiggs wrote restaurant reviews and food stories for the Evening News of India and The Illustrated Weekly of India. “My first column was called What to Eat and Where and I had to write about a meal that didn’t cost more than 40 to 50 rupees.” The situation around food was such that the publications wouldn’t pay for food tasting. However Jiggs reminisces a turning point. “I had done a series on food and birth signs. I got a call from Mr Mitra, the then editor of The Times of India. And he was frantic because I had done only two. He said, ‘What the hell have you done? I gave you a column and now there are these women writing to ask me about what they should eat? We are this sign or we are that sign.’ That’s when they realised that food can’t be trivialised.”
The in-demand food writer has various culinary books to his credit and is a leading consultant to the hotel and catering industry in the country. “Without being bombastic, my column was easy to understand and put on the fire and dining table. I even taught people how to cut garlic and onions.” He has travelled the world on various culinary adventures and Walker Bros. The Original Pancake House in Chicago, he says, has the most delicious waffles, pancakes and coffee. He is also a devotee of the Udipi cuisine at Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) in Bengaluru. But when I quiz him about his evergreen dish, he humbly says it’s his mother’s rara meat. “My mother would prepare rara meat which is today called bhuna gosht. She would stir-fry the meat for 45 minutes to one hour, and while it was simmering, she would stitch the clothes that were torn.” Apparently, his love for food can be attributed to his mother because while cooking, she allowed his brother and him to hover around.