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Toss it like Jiggs

If you're happy in the kitchen, the outcome cannot be anything but outstanding, says the master chef

Jiggs Kalra makes a point — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

IF MANMOHAN Singh ever came hungry to Jiggs Kalra, what would he whip up to sate the Prime Minister? "For the asli Punjab da puttar that he is, I would go back to our roots and dish up an elaborate three-course meal.

"Instead of kebabs, I would give him batti ka murgh, followed by some curries and bread. I would begin with Amristari machhi and Amritsari kulcha that would bring a sense of déjà vu for him, as Amritsar is where his family chose to settle down after Partition. In the second course, I would advise him some murgh mardaan malaiwala, tadkewali daal or dahi, paneer bhurjee and bharta (which he is profoundly fond of), and finally some Shikampuri pulao — from the royal house of Patiala, which is flavoured- ice and chicken breast full of goodies.

"I would make some lehsun-burrani to go along with the rice. He will have bowls of it, I am sure, to digest the rice. The last part will have shahi rabri, malpua and advice to eat only as much rabri as he can."

Then again, Jiggs would like it most if Dr. Singh refused this stately meal and went on a satvik diet instead. "After all, my responsibility to ensure good health of the customer is paramount and takes precedence over my pleasure of whipping up a hearty meal. At 72, no one, not even the Prime Minister, should be eating a full stomach."

But he laments: "We are, above all, a fat nation who've always loved to eat. Only recently have Indians realised the importance of eating right."

Jiggs Kalra suffered a massive stroke four years ago that has left him paralysed on the left side. Bash on regardless (coined by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw) being the dictum he lives by, the Sardar soldiers on — confident that by mid-March he will be up and doing.

"It is traumatic when a Sikh who's been tying a turban since eight years of age, cannot tie it any longer by himself. My Taj is gone, I have to make do with a cap, you see," he says with childlike innocence. Even so, he looks pretty upbeat in red Reebok sneakers and white Crocodile T-shirt as he goes around on a wheelchair, giving instructions to chefs on the small refinements on butter chicken.

Bend it like him

Jiggs says: "Life would have been as before. And butter chicken, for your information, is the lowest common denominator of Punjabi cuisine. It is an aberration restaurateurs cannot do away with, owing to its huge popularity with people, who are not particularly Punjabis. Murgh mardaan malaiwala is far superior composition than that."

A dead bird tells no tales, and Jiggs Kalra does not tell stories. "Since my Illustrated Weekly days, my guru Khushwant Singh, for whom I am what I am, always used to tell me to adhere to the truth. The rest will fall in place by default."

Six books, three textbooks and five restaurants in four years, Jiggs, by his own admission, couldn't have done any better even if he wasn't paralysed. "God has been kind to me. That is what my guru keeps saying, Khalsa Chadi Kala Viche Re."

Photographs of every deity under the sun adorn his bed stand, which begs the question whether it is a god-given quality to be a great cook. "My father, Brigadier Kalra, could tell from the smell of the subzi the vintage of the ghee used. And my mother's record of being the best Army housewife-cook for several years successively is yet to be beaten. Cooking is only a state of mind, if you are happy — the outcome is outstanding. I understood that my happiness lay in being a domestic cook than a glorified clerk in the U.K. at £17 a week, which was one of my first jobs."


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