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Zorawar Kalra

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The founder of Massive Restaurants talks to us about progressive food and the evolution of the Indian palate


February 16 , 2018

OT: Tell us about your journey. How has your father, the celebrated gastronome and food columnist Jiggs Kalra, inspired you?

Zorawar Kalra: I had pretty much decided to go into the restaurant business in my preteen years. I travelled the world with my father and observed his lifestyle, which I found very intriguing. This also exposed me to great food early in life. He would always tell me, first figure out something to do for free and then find a way to make money from it. Though I always saw him build amazing intellectual property, it was for other people. So at a young age, I decided to arm myself with proper business knowledge and build a company, and also—as my father did— put Indian food on the global palate.

OT: What role does Mr Kalra play vis-à-vis  the restaurants?

 Zorawar Kalra: He is obviously the mentor, and a genius with unparalleled expertise. Even 17 years after his stroke, he remembers the minutest of details about food and knows every nuance there is to Indian cuisine. Our flagship brand—Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra—has his name on the door. It is an ode to his legacy. He continues to play a role in new menu development and innovation, and we try to incorporate his culture of ‘attention to detail and complete dedication to the food’ in whatever we do. 

OT: You have introduced molecular gastronomy in Indian food. Do you travel extensively to learn more about such concepts?

 Zorawar Kalra: We don’t seek too much inspiration from our travels, but we definitely like to see what is happening around the world. We do get ideas, but we also conduct plenty of internal research. Many of our menus are from our imagination. When we do travel, it is not for particular dishes, but the ethos of the restaurant. 

OT: You have done a lot of fusion food. What challenges have you faced there?

Zorawar Kalra: We like to call ourselves a ‘progressive cuisine’ company. Progressive food is highly creative, not limited by geography, and imbibes the best of multiple cultures. I feel it is the future. I am not saying traditional meals are going anywhere— we just like to be cuisine agnostic. Even Indian fare has global influences, but is still authentic in flavour. For foreign cuisines, we pay homage to the original recipe, but also play around with the ingredients and do something creative. I feel that is important. How long can you keep on eating the same food? Why not innovate a bit, but without losing the essence? It is only human nature to push the envelope.

OT: How was it to be one of the judges in the fifth season of MasterChef India? 

Zorawar Kalra: It exposed me to the sheer level of cooking talent that exists in India. The participants were all passionate cooks who wished to be chefs or open their own restaurants. The platform gave them a chance to showcase their skills. 

OT: Since you started your company in 2012, how have you seen the Indian palate evolve?

Zorawar Kalra: Indians are travelling all over the world and their palate has become quite refined. They want some of that food back in India. If you enjoy a good risotto, why should you have to go to Italy? There should be plenty of restaurants for that where you live. I’d say the days of going to just Indian or Chinese restaurants are gone. People want to be surprised. They like innovation and are rewarding it in a big way. So, a lot of restaurateurs are taking risks that they never  did a decade ago.

OT: Tell us about about your international expansion plans?

Zorawar Kalra: We open in London in April/May and have nine other restaurant openings planned for the Gulf countries by mid-2018. The international market is very important for us. The world will soon be our oyster, and we feel Indian food has unbelievable potential. We intend to present it there exactly the way we like to eat it, and not dumb it down for anyone.

OT: What’s next for Massive Restaurants  and for you?

Zorawar Kalra: Massive is growing very quickly. We intend to open 10 international and 25 domestic restaurants this year. Within India, we will be going into tier-two and tier-three cities. We are also planning to get into franchising. I’m hoping I do not fall off this tiger that I’m riding. But then, we have a great team. Also, my time is heavily constrained these days. I would like to spend some with my family and around a racetrack. There is not much else on the personal front.  It is pretty standard—I open restaurants; that  is what I do.

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