Lion of Punjabi khana

SHILPA PAI MIZAR | Updated on November 17, 2011

Dad's cooking: Jiggs and son Zorawar Kalra recently opened the Bangalore branch of their fine-dining restaurant chain, Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra.

Chaamp Tajdaar

Guchchi Pulao

Like many of us, J. Inder Singh ‘Jiggs' Kalra believes that mother's cooking is best. One of the country's best–known gastronomes and food consultants, Kalra has never been to culinary school… and says he wouldn't know what was taught there. Everything he knows, he learnt at his mother's knee.

“My father was a gourmet,” he recalls, “and the only time my parents had a spat was when the food wasn't good enough.” But those were rare moments indeed. And with varied cuisines, Indian and international, forming a part of everyday meals in the Kalra household, the young Kalra received invaluable grounding in what would later become his career and make him famous.

His son, Zorawar, operates a chain of fine-dining restaurants called Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra, under the Wrapster Foods brand owned by LiteBite Foods — a venture promoted by Dabur India Vice-Chairman Amit Burman.

Kalra, who has drawn on his culinary knowledge of undivided Punjab to put together the menu for this chain, offers his take on the future of Indian cuisine.

“Indians,” he says, “are phobic about food.” An unexpected comment, when everyone is talking about the well-travelled urban Indian and his/ her increasingly adventurous palate. Kalra concedes this, but goes on to say, “We are adventurous diners (when we eat out). But in most Indian homes, it is the housewife who cooks.” This, he says, is because at home we still prefer the predictable meals we grew up eating, and the woman of the house is seen as the custodian of the family's culinary inheritance.

And even with the soaring popularity of home deliveries and takeaways, with several multinational chains customising their products to local tastes, it is this jealous guardianship of home cooking which will repeatedly bring us back to our familiar roti and dal, rice and rasam, says the food specialist.

“This will be the success of Indian food in the long run,” he adds. Zorawar seconds this, saying that while some fast food chains may grow progressively more popular among youngsters on the price factor, they cannot really dent traditional food habits in countries like Japan, China and India, which have strong local cuisines.

“I love our cuisine. I've always wanted to be a restaurateur — but my ventures will always be about Indian food. No outsider is going to promote our cuisine. It is up to us to do that,” he reasons.

And what can the Bangalore foodie, arguably among the most pampered in the country right now, expect from the Punjab Grill? Besides the classic Daal, and the Salmon Tikka — a popular innovation from his father, Zorawar recommends the eatery's signature Guchchi Pulao. A tad expensive at Rs 575 a serving, the rice dish is centred around the dearly-priced guchchi (mushroom) that grows in Kashmir only two months a year. “We sell this at cost,” says Zorawar, on the effort to retain such a rare item on the menu, as “otherwise, it will be lost.”

With branches in Singapore, Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurgaon and Mumbai, Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra expects it branch in cosmopolitan Bangalore to serve as a good “tasting” ground for the country's South region.

Asked about his views on South Indian food, Zorawar starts singing paeans to the Idli and Dosa, the spices of Chettinad and the seafood of Kerala: “These are sophisticated cuisines — with their subtle use of fiery spices. They will become world famous if you push them hard enough.”

We're waiting to see that happen.

Published on November 17, 2011

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