J Inder Singh Kalra laughs as he says: “I love going up to my guests and helping them choose, but some of them don’t like it — they tell me, ‘What, you think, we can’t order on our own?’”
It shows both his passion for food, and his ability to not take himself too seriously. And early into a conversation with the 62-year-old Delhi restaurateur better known as Jiggs Kalra, you realise he doesn’t just love his food, he knows it.
Kalra, also a food columnist and celebrity chef, brims over with anecdotes and facts connected to pretty much anything you find on an Indian food platter, from where a certain recipe originated, to the correct way to eat an Indian meal.
Kalra has just opened the first Mumbai outpost of his hugely popular Punjab Grill, which opened in Gurgaon in July 2008, and Delhi in July 2009.
“The menu is exactly the same —kebabs, curries, dals, tandoor dishes, biryanis and dishes from Pakistan’s Punjab, like Lahori Aloo and Pindi Channa — but there’s a lot more seafood. Tandoori Scallops, Tandoori Lobster, Tandoori Calamari, Tandoori Jheenga are the new additions, besides our regular seafood specialties like Tandoori Duck and Salmon Tikka,” Kalra tells us from his Gurgaon home.
As he trails off into how kebabs are a Rajasthani creation and not, in fact, a Mongolian one — which is the widely held belief— you sense his eagerness to share what he knows, instead of bottling it all up as his own little secret, which is typical of most celebrity chefs.
“For me, Jiggs is the highest authority on food. I’ve bought all his books — they’re an absolute delight for any gastronome,” says cookery show host Kunal Vijaykar.
“At 30, I felt I’d consumed too much red meat and decided to follow a largely vegetarian diet. But somehow, I still had to go through a bypass,” shrugs Kalra, who’s been wheelchair-bound since his stroke in 2000, but still runs all of his restaurants’ culinary operations. “My son Zorawar (32) has managed the business side since the last four years, but I’m still 100 per cent involved with the food,” he explains.
Kalra is one of the few kebab lovers with an equal interest in vegetarian food. And Punjab Grill’s menu lets vegetarians match the gluttony of a kebab-lover. “Cooking with meat is easy, the real challenge is to cook with vegetables. The Veg Galouti Kebab, culled from yam and zucchini, tastes much like Khaam Khatai (non-veg Galouti Kebab), for instance,” Kalra points out.
I’ve spent many of my bachelor years in Mumbai, and I have some great memories of that time. So now, I’m giving something back to the city.
(Punjab Grill opened at the Palladium Mall, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel. Open 12 pm to 11.30 pm. Call 43473980. Meal for two: Rs 1,600 (without alcohol), Rs 2,000 (with alcohol).