Interview: The “Csar of Indian cuisine” Zorawar Kalra on “post-molecular” gastronomy and levitating desserts

The son of legendary Jiggs Kalra speak about Indian fine-dining in Dubai

Interview: The “Csar of Indian cuisine” Zorawar Kalra on “post-molecular” gastronomy and levitating desserts
Interview: The “Csar of Indian cuisine” Zorawar Kalra on “post-molecular” gastronomy and levitating desserts Image #2
Interview: The “Csar of Indian cuisine” Zorawar Kalra on “post-molecular” gastronomy and levitating desserts Image #3
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Caviar on toast sounds wonderful to us, but for a young Zorawar Kalra It was nothing short of grotesque.

Such were his protestations to the fish egg, that it had to be snuck into his diet, sandwiched between a thick layer of cream cheese and a slice of bread.

For the son of the “Czar of Indian cuisine”, legendary Indian food consultant Jiggs Kalra, such practises were necessary to “expand his palate”, and a multitude of restaurants across six countries later, it seems that the caviar-sneaking has paid off.

Kalra Junior, who is CEO of global restaurant group, Massive Restaurants, has just opened his second eatery in the region, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, of which there are two in India.

Famed for its molecular gastronomy, the restaurant has brought Indian fine dining firmly onto the global map, and according to Kalra, the 12-course tasting menu has less calories than a kids’ fast food meal deal.

The dining experience is a spectacle in itself, with deconstructed appetisers, sizzling grills (look out for the lamb chops) and levitating desserts wiping the floor with any amount of deep-fried chicken nuggets.

And the swanky new spot, which replaces Rang Mahal in the Business Bay hotel, is as far removed as you can get from that fluorescent yellow glare.

Kalra, who is regarded as the “Prince of Indian cuisine”, much to his amusement (“I’m not pretentious enough to want to be called the prince of anything”), is at the forefront of pioneering culinary techniques, using pickling, fermentation and even magnets in the preparation of the progressive dishes.

“Masala Library is a journey across India for your taste buds,” Kalra tells Time Out Dubai. “We’re using extremely cutting-edge and modern techniques. We don’t even like to use the word ‘molecular’ anymore – this is post-molecular – it’s never been done before.”

The businessman, who also has Farzi Café in City Walk, was destined for a life in hospitality, and was used as a tester by his culinary genius of a father as soon as he could chew solid food.

“My father was always trying out new recipes on the family and trying to expose us to new foods and flavours,” says Kalra.

“He’d hide anchovies in cream cheese when I was a kid otherwise I’d refuse to eat them. He was trying to expose our palettes to the good stuff and now regular cream cheese still tastes strange to me.

“My favourite childhood dish of his, though, was his omelettes. He’d make really wonderful big, fresh, fancy ones with fresh oregano that he picked up from somewhere with lots of different cold cuts. I’ve never been able to recreate it and of all my food memories of his, that’s the dominant one.”

Jiggs Kalra, who originally started out as a journalist and food critic, has a career spanning almost five decades and is still very much at the helm of the family business.

“He’s the guiding force behind the menu, the new revenue operations, all the detailing, all the repertoire of recipes, down to the very basis of the mineral,” says Kalra.

“He has thousands of recipes and research stretching over 35 years, he’s written dozens of books and we are using his recipes, his knowledge and his repertoire as the base for all of the menus that we do.

“He goes to the restaurants in India and works with the chefs to develop new things. He does that a lot and he’s brilliant at it. If I’m the prince, then he’s the sovereign.”

Masala Library in Dubai is the first branch of the restaurant to open outside of India, with current restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi. And to Kalra, there isn’t a better place in the world to open his brand-new restaurant.

Dishes on the menu (there is both a tasting and à la carte menu available) include a deconstructed samosa, ghee roast scallops, hand-pulled butter chicken, wagyu pathar kebabs with wasabi and walnut cream, mushroom and truffle “chai” and even a floating chocolate dessert.

“Dubai has always been a city that I love,” Kalra explains. “The diners here have travelled the world, they have access to the best restaurants and they enjoy cutting-edge and experimental foods.

“The city loves Indian food but it’s not seen the Indian food we’re serving in a fine dining environment, so it just made sense.”

That it does, and with 12 courses for less than 250 calories? We’re there.
Open daily 7pm-midnight. JW Marriot Marquis Dubai, Business Bay (04 404 3000).

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