As foodie evenings go, this was probably the hottest we have seen in many months. Usually foodie evenings are an excuse to push some product or launch some hotel. But this time around there were no commercial considerations. Everyone gathered at Bombay’s most popular restaurant-of-the-moment only out of a sense of affection and respect.
The occasion was kind of made-up. We were, ostensibly, celebrating 40 years of Jiggs Kalra’s journalism. But I’m still not clear on the chronology --- as far as I recall, Jiggs finished with Mayo College in 1965 and joined the illustrated Weekly in 1969 --- and so may be it was his 45 years in journalism and I got it wrong. But I know why we were there.
Jiggs moved from feature journalism to food sometime in the early 70s. And while he started out writing about restaurants, he switched to recipes and then to food research. Eventually, he became the first great patron of chefs (the legend of Imtiaz Qureshi is his original creation) and brought such local experts as Lucknow’s Tunde Kababwalla to national attention. Then he started working with such restaurants as the Delhi Hyatt’s Aangan and had a long association with ITC.
These days, it is his son Zorawar who has taken his legacy forward with such successes as the Made In Punjab chain which has turned Jiggs into a brand. And even Masala Library --- where the waiting time for a table for dinner can be two weeks if you want to eat at a sensible hour ---- is branded with Jiggs’ name even though it serves a very different kind of cuisine from the sort of food we associate with Jiggs.
So when Zorawar called Jiggs’ old friends and said he was throwing a party for his dad at Masala Library, the foodie world turned out in force. Smokehouse king Riyaaz Amlani, India’s most famous chef Sanjeev Kapoor, champion foodie Kunal Vijaykar, wine-maker Rajeev Sawant, food writers Kalyan Karmakar and Antoine Lewis, food blogger Al (Food Bloggers Association of India), Masterchef Ranveer Brar, the multi-talented Rushina Munshaw. And so many others.
Jiggs has been confined to a wheelchair for a decade or so now but that has done nothing to dim his spirit or stifle his creativity. Now that Made In Punjab is among the leaders in its category and Zorawar’s Masala Library and Farzi Café are super-successes, he finally has the financial security that eluded him during his most creative years when he created classic dishes and wonderful restaurants for others for a pittance.
I told him that nobody else could have gathered so many top foodies together for one night. Many of us had travelled to get to the event --- Sanjeev Kapoor had flown in from Dubai.
He seemed pleased. “You know the chefs never liked me in the old days”, he said. I told him that this had clearly changed. “Yes”, he said. “But the more the chefs hated me, the more the girls loved me.” He laughed uproariously.
Good old Jiggs!