Really? Has Indian food been misrepresented globally?

  • Serena Menon, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 20, 2015 15:50 IST

The fact that celebrity chef Jiggs Kalra didn't have any formal training in cooking has given many amateurs the motivation to follow their culinary dreams over the years.

The 67-year-old's love for food started at home, literally, in his mother and grandmother's kitchen, and it is this passion that has kept him going for decades. This year, Kalra turns 40 in the business that perhaps few understand as well as he does.

Here, the 'Czar of Indian Cooking' talks about his journey, what makes Mumbai's dining experience a unique one, and more.

How important is formal training in food today?
It is extremely important, at least to get the basics right. But I am also of the opinion that it curtails creativity to a little extent. It is imperative that one is aware of how and at what temperature to make a good dish, but it is equally important for a good chef to add his or her twist to it.

Jiggs Kalra with his son and restaurateur, Zorawar Kalra

Who were your influences when you started out?
I am Punjabi, and I hail from an Army background, so we are foodies by nature. My grandparents used to love dining and socialising, and so did my father because of the Army life. I carried forward the same legacy. My grandmother and mother would make amazing dishes at home. It was this exposure that somewhere urged me to experience other cuisines.

What, according to you, makes Mumbai's dining out habits different from other cities?
Eating habits have changed globally. During the era of my grandparents and parents, eating out was a lavish dinner at our house or at friends' homes. During my generation, that continued to an extent. Then, with the advent of restaurants, people started stepping out on occasions. Today, due to our hectic schedules, dining out has become part of our daily lives. The difference mostly lies in the need for dining out. For example, in Delhi, dining out is a celebration even when there is no special occasion being celebrated, while in Mumbai, it is often a need due to hectic professional lives.

You said once that the world doesn't know Indian cuisines. Do you think that has changed now?
Globally, Indian food has been misrepresented since the proliferation of 'Indian' restaurants around the world. Most of these were operated by non-Indian nationals as a means to earn their living in a foreign land, primarily in the UK, as the British were well-exposed to Indian food. This was the point from where the rest of the western countries built their perception of Indian cuisine, which is exactly where I found the disconnect. But I am glad that, in recent years, restaurateurs and chefs have come to realise the robustness of Indian food, and are showcasing its true strength in its real form and flavour. In my opinion, this is just the beginning.

As a restaurateur, how much importance do you give to food criticism today?
While I think it is important to be aware of these opinions, and they only enable restaurateurs to take cognisance of the areas of improvement, it is also very important for these voices to be a little empathetic towards the efforts being put in by a number of people.

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