The quintessential Punjabi, Jiggs Kalra loves life and all of its good things. A stroke has placed him in a wheelchair for the last few years but he remains as peripatetic as ever and is busy opening more restaurants.
Last week, he was in Bangalore to launch his signature restaurant ‘Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra’. Oblivious to the glitterati milling around, Jiggs had ensconced himself in the private dining room. After a whole day of media interviews, he wanted some downtime and chomped away on lusciously tender kebabs as son and heir apparent Zorawar held forth to the public.
Jiggs is one of the pioneering food writers in India and has authored several recipe books, several of which adorn my kitchen shelf. I have found the recipes very tasty but rich and have shied away from using them on a regular basis. And now he has come to my town and opened a restaurant focusing on Punjabi food, which I am persuaded is full of calories. So I asked him what he had to say in his defence.
Being a journalist gives you licence to ask what could be construed as rude questions, but well, needs must and one has to do a job well. Jiggs, having been a journalist himself before becoming a self-taught chef, can take it on the chin.
“A Kebab is the healthiest food – all the fat goes into the tandoor when it is being cooked, preserving the taste and your health”, he said. The twinkle in his eye got brighter, because just then the waiter placed a plate loaded with Duck samosas Punjab Grill’s specialty dish in front of us. Deftly, Jiggs reached across the tray and said, “Try the salmon tikkas. We have more seafood on the menu in Mumbai and Bangalore than in Delhi. This city will take to our chicken; people here will not go in for lamb much”.
He is right as usual for he knows the city well having had a long association here with the food business. He has worked on the recipes of the north Indian dishes for the ready-to-eat business for MTR. For years, he has had breakfast delivered from MTR at whichever five star hotel he is staying in and a surefire way to curry favour from him is to arrive with idlis from his favourite eatery.
He was by then “fully fed up” as we say locally and sent me off to peek at the ‘pateelas’ – the traditional cooking pots in which copious quantities of black dal and murg makhni simmer throughout Punjab.
Jiggs Kalra with son Zorawar
Did I not begin by saying that Jiggs is a Punjabi through and through – well, he’s displayed his smarts by tying up with Amit Burman of the Dabur Group to open this chain of fine-dining Indian restaurants. Zorawar told me that this is the seventh restaurant they have opened in three years; the company owns and operates the six in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Singapore, while Bangalore is the first place where it is run by a franchisee. 
I like what I see – it is modern and mercifully avoided being kitschy; the food is served with a flair of fusion, definitely Indian with a glamorous gloss. It is not far from where I live and it’s obvious that it has certainly caught the fancy of Bangaloreans.  
Sandhya Mendonca
(Sandhya Mendonca writes the weekly column ‘My Bangalore’ for Oheraldo)