Making Indian Food Cool By Zorawar Kalra
Zorawar Kalra was inspired by his father to pursue a career in food.
Those who grew up on Doordarshan will remember a certain cookery show from the early ’90s. Through Daawat, Jiggs Kalra showed us that making food can be fun. His son Zorawar, a schoolboy then, was completely bowled over by his 'celebrity Dad'. Over the last two decades, the boy has grown up to be a celebrity in his own right, earning a name for himself in the Indian dining scene. In a freewheeling chat with India Food Network, Zorawar Kalra talks about everything from his father’s Sunday omelettes to the rules for making it big in this industry.
We still remember Daawat, your father Jiggs Kalra’s TV show on food. How did you receive it as a kid?
It was awesome! I was in school at that time and everybody knew me as the son of a celebrity. Right from my friends to even my teachers, everybody was fascinated, and it was a matter of pride for me. He was talented after all.
Would he cook for the family? Please share your food memories.
He was a very busy man, so naturally did not have the time to cook for us. But, on Sundays, that too rarely, he’d cook up these gourmet omelettes. We were a joint family with four cousins who’d look forward to Sundays when he’d be home to make breakfast for us. He would use imported cheeses and herbs brought back from his travels to prepare them. I still remember the taste of those omelettes!
Coming from a typical Punjabi family, the family ensured that the food was spot on. And when it was not, we'd fight over it. But, I have some wonderful memories of food, especially my Dadi’s Rishta Kofta, a Kashmiri favourite. She was an amazing cook, and like anyone good at it, would spend the entire morning beating the meat to make these really succulent lamb koftas by lunch time.
How did your Dad inspire you to choose a career in food?
He has been instrumental in every possible way. He was a food historian and journalist and worked with chefs. He actually understood the science of food, which in a way helped me hone my skills in the industry. His passion and deep understanding of flavours were completely unparalleled. In fact, I am thankful for acquiring a great palate because of him! Work ethic is also something that I learned because of his vast knowledge in the industry.
Was it a conscious decision to stay away from cooking?
I don’t have the temperament to cook! I do what I understand and that’s running a restaurant business.
At a time when restaurants in India are taking to world cuisine, what made you stick to Indian food?
I just launched Pa Pa Ya in Mumbai, which will serve pan-Asian food. But, it is the power of Indian cuisine that interests me the most.
How do you think Indian food can be made exciting for the young urban diner?
The objective is to make Indian food ‘cool’. And, we are in the process of doing the same with the help of interesting marketing tools. Of course the food has to be innovative, not just delicious. The catch is to make the experience hip and cutting edge for the young audience. Even the ordinary butter chicken needs to be treated differently considering they want something unique.
What are some of the biggest restaurant trends you foresee?
Regional Indian food will be in the forefront, organic food and smaller plates, bite-sized foods like tapas would take over in the coming years. Apart from this, liquor-based concepts will rule. Quality will prevail.
How does the future look like for the group?
We are going international with Farzi Café launching in Dubai in less than two months. Plans to launch 10 restaurants in India in the next six months and two overseas are also there.
Lastly, what is your favourite Indian dish? Any favourite Indian restaurant apart from your own?
When it comes to a dish, it has to be Nalli Nihari. I can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner! As far as restaurant is concerned, it has to be Dum Pukht at ITC Maurya in Delhi as it was done by my Dad.