Jiggs Kalra, the iconic star of Indian cuisine who received accolades such as the “Czar of Indian Cuisine” and “taste maker to the nation” by author Khushwant Singh, passed away at 72. By Shrimayee Thakur
Jaspal Inder Singh Kalra, popularly known as Jiggs Kalra, brought Indian cuisine to new heights with his innovative mind and delighted both national as well as international gourmands. The first Asian to be inducted into the International Food and Beverage Gourmet Hall of Fame, Jiggs Kalra had cooked for prominent personalities such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Princess Diana and Prince Charles and also for the erstwhile US President Bill Clinton. Chef Kalra was credited with the revival of recipes such as the Galouti kebab, an age-old recipe from India’s past royal kitchens. After a long battle with illness, the celebrated restaurateur succumbed to his illness on the morning of June 4.
He started his career as a food columnist at Illustrated Weekly, for which he worked with eminent culinary personalities as well as locals. His passion for food and local cuisines helped him rediscover lost recipes. During this phase, he was contacted by the then Director-General of Doordarshan Delhi, Sashi Kapur and Jaya Chandiram, of Central Production Centre to create and host the first food show on television based on Indian cuisine. After a year of research that led him across the country, the show Daawat was telecast on Doordarshan. Its immense popularity both within the country and overseas made it one of the top rated shows on the channel. Daawat was followed by another show, Zaike Ka Safar, which was telecast on Zee TV. At the time, he was also working on his first book, Prashad, considered to be a bible for chefs. It was released in 1986.
A major milestone in his career as a restaurateur was when he was summoned by the Maharaja of Mewar to run the kitchen in the Shiv Niwas Palace. It was then that Jiggs Kalra donned the chef’s hat full time.
Kalra had a number of feathers in his cap, gained during his illustrious career spanning over four decades. He was the consulting Food Editor to Bennett Coleman & Co. publications, The Times of India and Femina. He also served as the Advisor to the India Trade Promotion Organisation, as appointed by the Government of India in 1997. Along with his son, Zorawar Kalra, Jiggs Kalra started many ventures such as Punjab Grill in 2006, which was initially a quick service restaurant (QSR), but was rebranded as a fine-dining restaurant in 2007. Jiggs Kalra was the Mentor & Culinary Director at Massive Restaurant Pvt Ltd., spearheaded by Zorawar Kalra, which brought forth four revolutionary restaurant concepts such as Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Made in Punjab, Farzi Café and Pa Pa Ya.
The news of his demise was met with an outpouring of grief and reminiscence of encounters with the distinguished personality. Vir Sanghvi, popular food critic, expressed his dismay saying, “Goodbye old friend. The great Jiggs Kalra who did so much to rediscover the lost secrets of Indian food and who gave chefs their rightful place in the sun goes off to that great kitchen in the sky to ensure that the Gods eat his wonderful food. There will never be another Jiggs.”
Others tweeted about how Jiggs Kalra’s journey and passion inspired them to begin their own, such as filmmaker Hansal Mehta, who wrote — “RIP Jiggs Kalra. Thank you for introducing me to Indian food and it’s treasure of recipes. All your books adorn my bookshelf and the masala and oil on each page is testimony to how your recipes have shaped my passion for cooking.”
Kalra’s precious legacy will live on through his food and his culinary ventures, which will be taken forward by his son, Zorawar Kalra.