Jaspal Inder Singh Kalra, popularly known as Jiggs Kalra, celebrated chef, culinary genius, food revivalist, food columnist, gastronome, television anchor, pioneering restaurateur and author, passed away at the age of 71 in Delhi. His is a name that Indian restaurant owners revere, chefs watch out for, and food critics respect.
In a career of close to five decades, the septuagenarian introduced Indian cuisine to an international audience, reviving lost ancient cuisines of the treasure trove of the royal kitchens of India, and elevated age-old delicacies such as the galouti kebabs. With his portly frame, authoritative voice, and fiery temper, he was an impresario, an influencer, before the term got fashionable, a man of knowledge, of good taste, of a formidable reputation, and impeccable media relations.
Though his army father expected him to follow in his footsteps, he had other plans. Fond of reading and writing and mesmerised from youth by his grandmother and mother’s amazing way of cooking traditional Punjabi food, he found joy, passion and patience with food. So, armed with a Bachelor’s in commerce, he joined the The Illustrated Weekly, where his idea of starting a food column was lapped up by his editor, Kushwant Singh.
His prodigious appetite for a deeper understanding of Indian cuisine, made him not only extensively write about food, but also work alongside chefs, housewives and culinary legends spanning the length and breadth of India, exploring the country’s culinary treasures, recording data that never existed before.
Walking the food streets of India, he discovered old-world masters such as Tunday in Lucknow and Ram Babu, Agra’s famous paranthewala. He egged on chefs to get creative and bolster the Indian repertoire with dishes like tandoori salmon, and spun stories to popularise these inventions, the most famous of them being that of the toothless nawab for whom the kakori kebab had been created. He even served the likes of British royals Prince Charles, the late Princess Diana, and former US President Bill Clinton.
He went on to food consultancy in the 1980s. As CMD of Bawarchi Tolla (Hotel & Restaurant Consultants), he also assisted his son, Zorawar Kalra, as the mentor and culinary director for Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. The father-son duo who took immense pride in the robustness and versatility of Indian cuisine, were sad that Indian cuisine always featured at the bottom, whenever people chose to dine out. Innovation in food and ambience became their prime focus.
Turning restaurateur promoting gourmet food, he launched some of the most critically acclaimed and revolutionary restaurant concepts in the country like, Farzi Café and, MasalaBar and KODE’s, Punjab Grill, BBQ’D, Masala Library by Jiggs, Made in Punjab, and Pa Pa Ya. In all their menus, molecular gastronomy was only infused in dishes it could add value to, without taking away from its flavour profile. They stayed innovative while aggressively expanding their domestic footprint and eyeing major international ones, winning 20 national and international awards.
However, he suffered a paralytic stroke a few days after he devised an impressive menu, daure ki tafreeh for the banquet at the fruitless Agra Summit in mid-2001, between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf.
He represented India at various international food festivals. The first Asian to be inducted into the International Food & Beverage Gourmet Hall of Fame, he won numerous national and international awards and accolades. In 1997, the Government of India appointed him as advisor to the India Trade Promotion Organisation. The first to conceptualise and host a food-oriented television series, his Daawat on DD, was a pioneering one, showcasing regional food and revelled in its nuances. This was followed by Zaike ka Safar, on Zee TV.
Indian food was undocumented, with recipes getting diluted. He took it upon himself to revive, restore and record them. He authored over 11 titles on Indian cuisine, including PRASHAD – Cooking with the Indian Masters, released in 1986, which is considered the Bible for budding chefs. His son and daughter-in-law, Zorawar and Dildeep Kalra, now take his food legacy forward. As for Jiggs, he must be drinking his fill of amrit where he is, trying to decode the exact recipe!