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Juggler at the table

DINING OUT with Jiggs Kalra is no less than conducting a surgery. Bite by bite. Rather militarily then, it should be named something like Operation Victuals. For, garnished with tit-bits about other things, the conversation of "this taste-maker of India" always returns to square one, that of food and drinks.

"I do not allow guests to have beer with my dishes. When you have wine to accentuate the taste and feel of Indian food, why lose it with a frothy drink," his opening salvo is rather authoritative about things that marry food to drinks. Well, no cheers to wine here for Jiggs is yet to fully recover from a paralytic attack four years ago, to hold a glass. Keeping a close watch on his cholesterol and blood pressure count, even his own rich recipes have every chance of being poison to him for these years.

"This is my main course," Jiggs gets on to his jovial self as his Malayali nurse helpfully places two capsules to be taken along with food.

Now begins the placing of order. The restaurant is of his choice - Wave, a year-old multi-cuisine joint tastefully done at Adchini.

The menu card has Awadhi food prepared by chefs under his supervision and so like the back of his palm, Jaspal Inderjit Kalra aka Jiggs knows exactly what to expect. "For the first time, I am holding a food festival in a stand alone restaurant away from a five-star kitchen," Jiggs says.

As speciality kababs from the land of the Nawabs like galouti, tunda, dora, kakori along with bhunni chaat fill up space on the table as per his instructions, the aroma seems to do an instant magic on ailing Jiggs. Turning his cap shade backwards, he takes off:

"The best way to judge your food is by your palate and nose. So, if you add lots of chilli into a dish, you tend to block your nose which kills the flavour for the sake of taste. And that is not on."

The operation, you realise has begun. With bare hands.

Kababs with hands

"Always eat kababs with hands. It is an added pleasure," comes the instruction from this old hand.

Though Awadhi dishes like Nihari and Korma take hours to cook, Jiggs says not all dishes take a day to prepare a meal. Some ingredients that he uses in his recipes are "a bit of gulabjal, a drop of kevra, a chunk of cheddar cheese and elaichi." Once a month, Jiggs used to go to Lucknow to taste the street food and that is when he had come across the famous kabab point Tunda Kababiya. "For five years, I kept coaxing the chefs at Tunda Kababiya to come out of Lucknow to save their recipes. Initially, they thought I was there to steal recipes but soon they realised that I wanted to save the age-old dishes from a silent death," says this alumnus of St. Xavier's, Kolkata.

Taking one dish at a time, checking each bite, Jiggs seems to be approving of the rollout of his chefs. "A meat dish should be such that if needed, one should be able to cut it with a fork. I always double marinate my dishes which helps," explains the only Indian to be included in the Gourmet Hall of Fame at Las Vegas last month.

Having done with the first dish-out, he announces that it is time for the main course. Coming as replacement is a wide array - gosht ki paslian, nargisi paneer, maahi Awadh, kundan kaliya with gilafi kucha. "I guess my food is popular because I also think about the vegetarians. Dishes like nargisi paneer is my equivalent for nargisi kofta. To replace the look of egg yolk, I add saffron in the middle of paneer," he cuts a chunk of cottage cheese to prove it.

Street food

Coming back to street food, Jiggs says "It is sad that street food in Hyderabad and Lucknow is dying. It has a lot to do with poverty. Only in Kerala have they been able to keep it alive only because of the Gulf Boom." This "chela" of writer-columnist Khushwant Singh, to whom he gives the credit for initiating him into writing on food, also dips a little into his salad days: "Like any other youngster, I took it up and I am still enjoying," adding "My father though was not happy with it. Like a true blue Army general, he wanted to see me in uniform." The food lover says, also by a similar fate, he became Jiggs: "In Mayo College, there was another Jaspal that year who used to be called Jiggs. Once in a dhaba, a classmate called me Jiggs and that seemed to have caught on," he narrates.Happy now that his son Zorabar is back from the U.S. to help him with his catering business, Jiggs says, "I've got my hands and limbs back." You leave him at that. Perhaps to avoid an equally close and long-winding surgical session of a rich dessert fare.

Dining with Jiggs is also like wishing you had more than a tummy to fill in all the talk and the food together.


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