Jiggs Kalra (May 1948 - June 2019): He made food trendy way before it was
Friends and colleagues pay rich tributes to Jiggs Kalra, who played a key role in putting the country on the global gastro map
When AD Singh speaks of the charm of Jiggs Kalra, 71, —who passed away in Delhi on Tuesday — we realise it must have taken honing. Ad man and once owner of Bandra’s Papa Pancho, Prahlad Kakkar said he had quite a personality and wore many hats — food journalist, television anchor, restaurant consultant, restaurateur and culinary director at Massive Restaurants.
At 71, the “taste maker to the nation” and “czar of Indian cuisine” — titles conferred on him by the late Khushwant Singh — passed away in Delhi on Tuesday. One of the first food writers of the country, Kalra worked passionately to put Indian food on the global map. Ad man Kakkar, who, who spent time with him during their early days in Mumbai, says, “We were lukkhas when we met in Bombay. He was a trainee at The Times of India and I was a rookie with Shyam Benegal. Both of us were broke. We had a great desire to befriend women, but we knew our faces were never going to be our fortune. We realised that the only way to get close to a companion was to impress her with cooking. A third friend, Bikram Singh, was a chick magnet, and he shared a flat on Napean Sea Road with Jiggs. Theirs was a bachelor pad and we saw many women friends come over. In a bid to impress them, Jiggs and I became designated cooks at the soirees.”
The two discovered a common passion for food. Kakkar says, Jiggs would read recipes voraciously. He approached Behram Contractor, who at the time wrote the legendary food review column, Busy Bee, and struck a deal to cover the mediocre eateries. “And, I would tag along. At the time, we invented a term called ‘slumming’, promising women to show them the real Bombay. We took them to Noor Mohammedi for nalli nihari; Baghdadi became our adda as did Bade Miyan.”
Kakkar adds, “I joked that our epitahs should read: Men who cook get laid more often that the men who pump iron. When I last met him, I refused to regard his wheelchair, and reminded him of the old days. He laughed it off!”
(L-R) Rocky Mohan and Zamir Khan
Later, Kalra moved to Delhi to work for The Hindustan Times where Khushwant Singh was editor. It was then that he connected with food historian Pushpesh Pant. The two went on to be friends and partners. The pair worked on Daawat, the first food show India had seen that aired on Doordarshan. “I was given a free hand to work on the script, and I looked up to him for being quality conscious. When it came to food, he fired my imagination. We went on to tour India for the scripting,” Pant remembers. The two consulted restaurants and hotels together, and even founded the catering firm Bawarchi Tolla in 1997. “Ours was a relationship that lasted 40 years,” Pant says.
But it’s for Prashad – Cooking with Indian Masters, a book he wrote in 1986, that Kalra is best known. Zamir Khan, who worked with Zorawar from 2006 to 2018, says, “From having passively watched his shows with my mother, to studying his book, Prashad, in college, I was delighted when Zorawar invited me over to meet the legend. I remember going blank, but he asked me to sit next to him to chat. I owe my passion for Indian cuisine to Jiggs uncle, which Zorawar fuelled, as I worked with them on Punjab Grill, Made In Punjab, Masala Library and Pa Pa Ya.”
Padma Shri chef Imitiaz Qureshi, who was associated with ITC Hotels, is despondent on hearing the news. “Afsos hai mujhe. Woh mere saathi the.” The two met in Delhi when Kalra was at ITC Maurya to interview executive chef Roger Mankot for Takshila restaurant. “He interviewed me a couple of times for Mayur restaurant. The first time we met, he asked me, ‘French cuisine main wine use hoti hai. Aap ke Mughlai khaane mein kya khas ingredient jata hai?’ Maine kahaa, fresh anar, angoor, sab istamal hota hai. Wahin se hamari dosti shuru hui,” says the 88-year-old veteran, recalling a dinner they once organised for the rajas of Mayo College, Jaipur, at ITC Maurya. “The star dish I cooked that night was Lucknow’s traditional moong gosht.”
In the 1980s, cookbook author Rocky Mohan, who comes from the family that manufactured Old Monk, remembers meeting Kalra at an event where they got talking about a dish called Akbari kheema. “He said it was impossible to make mince without browning the meat. I invited him over to my home in Lucknow and served him the dish. We had a great tête-à-tête, with a young Zorawar [Kalra’s restaurateur son] around. I looked up to him for his sharp sense of humour and innovative thought. He wanted to revive Indian food for the world, and he succeeded,” says Mohan. In 2000, Kalra suffered a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair. But that didn’t take away his spirit, says Zamir Khan. “Even on his low days, Jiggs uncle was full of life. He would talk about writing more books. One day, he called me to his study and asked to pull out a book, helping me locate it without looking at the shelf. He knew exactly where his notes were. He was that person I, and the industry thought would go nowhere.”
Zorawar Kalra with dad, Jiggs
He worked tirelessly towards promoting his beloved Indian cuisine globally. I have lost my beloved father but Indian cuisine has lost one of its ambassadors. His passing makes our resolve and duty towards Indian cuisine even stronger. His advice to me was to stick to and stay true to my passion. He said, find something that you would do for free and then figure out a way to make money from it - Zorawar Kalra
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