Jiggs Kalra, a pioneering food writer, researcher and consultant, passed away this morning in Delhi after a prolonged illness. The 71-year-old, who became the first Asian to be inducted into the International Food and Beverage Gourmet Hall of Fame, was widely regarded as the first to bring lost recipes from across north India, including the royal kitchens of Awadh, into the limelight and was responsible for the popularity of many staples of Indian restaurants around the world, including kebabs and tikkas.
Born Jaspal Inder Singh Kalra, he began his career as a journalist at the Times of India, later moving on to the Illustrated Weekly of India, where he flourished under the editorial eye of the late Khushwant Singh. He eventually segued into food writing, with what is arguably one of the first restaurant review columns in India in the Evening News and grew to become such a expert in the field that his former boss and mentor, Singh, bestowed on him the informal title ‘Czar of Indian Cuisine’.
His book Prashad: Cooking with Indian Masters, remains a Bible for everyone who wants to cook Indian food professionally and is used as a textbook in hospitality schools around the country. He was also a pioneer in food television, with the hugely popular Doordarshan show Daawat, in which he, along with food historian Pushpesh Pant, traveled the length and breadth of the country, talking to chefs, bawarchis, khansaamas and other professional cooks and bringing to light a mind-boggling range of recipes.
Over the years, Kalra wore many hats, including as Advisor to the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation in 1997. He was behind the success of some of India’s most iconic restaurants, including ITC’s Dum Pukht and Bukhara, and researched and wrote prolifically till a decade ago when a stroke forced him into a wheelchair. However, he remained involved in the Indian hospitality industry: he lent his name and expertise to restaurants such as Jiggs Kalra’s Made in Punjab and Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra and was mentor and culinary director of Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd, launched in 2012 by his son Zorawar, with restaurants such as Masala Library, Farzi Cafe and Pa Pa Ya.
His most important contribution, however, was as an impresario for Indian cuisine. “There have been other great recipe writers for Indian food, but what set Jiggs apart was that he was not just a writer, but a brand ambassador for Indian food,” says Pant.
In this role, Pant explains, Kalra not only helped get Indian cuisine global recognition as a culinary tradition of the same standing as the French, but also helped to highlight the roles of chefs, including Imtiaz Qureshi of Dum Pukht. “He would find chefs in the bylanes of small towns and promote them in his articles. Hotel management had the habit of looking down on chefs, but Jiggs fought for their rights and helped rebuild the confidence and pride of chefs in their own profession. That is perhaps his greatest contribution to Indian food.”