Neha Verma Grewal
The very first time that I met Jaspal Inder Singh Kalra, better known as Jiggs, he gave me a most important lesson. In his ruminative manner, he said; ‘That you love to cook is good. But it is better that you learn to cook with love.’
I have before me his Classic Cooking of Punjab in which he has inscribed — almost as an order — ‘Enjoy a robust repast with Ma, Pa and the rest of the family. You cook love! Jiggs uncle’.
Once, talking about his school days, he said he loved two things: basketball and food. He used to run away from school every other day with some bread. On being asked why, he responded with much enthusiasm that it was because of his favourite indulgence! He used to go to a street vendor and make him refry samosas already deep-fried. He used the now crisp samosa to make a sandwich. The way he described that simple treat made me imagine that I was there, running away from school, indulging in the sinful samosa sandwich! Such was the power of his articulation that it could make anyone crave anything he described.
He made me love food and everything about it. Even before I met him, I used to watch him on various shows on television. Through his appearances and books, he made me fall in love with everything related to Indian food. His books have the best recipes, and our hotel management college had an entire section dedicated to his books. My mother would dread the day I would open one of his books, because I would mess up the kitchen.
During my hotel management course, we had to undertake a group project, which required us to run a pop-up restaurant for an evening. As our group was planning I decided to research Awadhi food. When I shared my idea with Jiggs uncle on phone, he interrupted me immediately and conceptualised the entire theme for me. He made me visualise, through an hour-long conversation, what an ideal restaurant would look like with colossal clarity and conviction. He even envisioned a menu for the evening, and painted a clear picture of how the mehfil should look and what the guests must experience. I went back to my group and convinced everyone that Awadhi was our best option.
A week later, Jiggs Kalra’s Classic Cooking of Awadh arrived at my doorstep, autographed by the legend himself! Our restaurant project was a success and everyone applauded the minute details that we had incorporated — from the music, décor, seating, the after-mints and, of course, the food.
He used to say that recipes always have the phrase ‘salt to taste’ because it is an individual’s preference. He also mentioned that the person who can get the balance of salt right at the first attempt is a good cook. I remember this every time I cook food at home and smile to myself.
Today, I say a fond farewell to the man of a thousand words. May you continue to teach in heaven how to cook with love.
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