He’s raised fine dining to new levels with his Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya and MasalaBar initiatives. It is restaurateur Zorawar Kalra’s eye for detail that’s given him a head start in an otherwise crowded space.
While the basis of the cuisine served at Farzi Cafe was almost the same as Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, the idea with it was to bring Indian food back in vogue and cool for the younger generation for whom Indian food didn’t even feature in their cuisine of choice while dining out.
“Today, after almost two years since the flagship launch of the concept, that perception has changed drastically to the extent that there are many trying to emulate us without giving much thought to the concept or spending time on research and trials”, Kalra, whose father Jiggs Kalra has been variously described as the ‘Czar of Indian Cuisine’ and ‘Tastemaker to the Nation’, told IANS in an e-mail interview.
It’s a journey that started out in August 2006 when he visited one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world – ElBuilli – in the Spanish town of Roses in Catalonia.
“It was during this experience that I personally experienced a purely modernist culinary experience and that was the time I had thought of one day doing a restaurant concept which used molecular gastronomy, but as an element which added to a guest’s dining experience. During the course of establishing (holding company) Massive Restaurants in 2012, we realised the need to innovate on Indian cuisine since the pre-1920 perception it carried due to same dishes being found across menus of restaurants, big or small, around the world, the large portions served with the same sort of presentation,” said Kalra, who holds an MBA from Boston’s Bentley’s Business University and has been recognised amongst the 50 Most Influential Young Indians by GQ India.
Thus, the idea behind Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra “has been to bring in a balance between traditional Indian food and progressive cuisine, while using contemporary techniques such as elements of molecular gastronomy where it adds value and improves a dish,” he said.
The same philosophy has been carried forward across the other concepts as well.
“For example, at Farzi Cafe, we serve raj kachori which uses foam of sonth ki chutney. The brain thinks it’s eating sonth chutney, but it’s actually foam with the fraction of calories of the traditional chutney. We have used science to improve a 200-year-old product,” Kalra said.
Each concept has its own vibe and culinary experience.
“Masala Library is a more formal dining concept where guests mostly come for celebrating special occasions, business meetings or an elaborate family dining experience. Farzi Cafe, on the other hand, is a more casual, high-energy concept offering a fun dining vibe. MasalaBar is a nightlife concept that brings together nightlife with a culinary experience, never done before. Pa Pa Ya offers a vibrant, high-energy dining where guests experience gourmet cuisine balancing innovation with traditional flavours, while Made in Punjab offers traditional flavours from the erstwhile region of undivided Punjab, staying true to the earthy-chic, vibrant and fun culture of the province”, Kalra explained.
He also noted that “the ambience across the restaurants breaks cliches, where we have replaced statues and figurines of maharajas and elephants with contemporary, understated subtle elegance to keep the focus on the cuisine and dining experience, with other elements working as an add-on and not overpowering the former.”
This eye for detail is easy to understand given Kalra’s background.
“Coming from a typical Punjabi family, my grandfather was from the Indian armed forces and a stickler for discipline and made sure that no negotiations were made on our upbringing as far as this was concerned. Having said that, like any other Punjabi household, we have been associated with food for generations, with my grandmother – her mutton beliram still remains my favourite – and mother being the finest cooks I’ve ever known”, he said.
“Food was a continuous topic of our family dining conversation. As a child, I never understood that much, but the anecdotes were quite interesting and mesmerising for us to look forward to the meals. Though dad didn’t join the armed forces, the life we lived as his family was no different. It was highly disciplined with specific timings that we had to follow”, Kalra added.
“I would spend a lot of time with him in and around the kitchen, but never had the patience to actually get to cooking for myself, let alone professionally, and that’s when I realised that I wanted to be a restaurateur. I spoke to dad about it and he was more than supportive of my decision and, thus, I headed to Boston after my graduation to get an understanding of business management”, Kalra said.
If he were not Jiggs Kalra’s son, what profession did he think he would have been in?
“Irrespective, if I weren’t a restaurateur, I would have definitely been a race car driver”, Kalra signed off.