By Andrea Louise Thomas Photos Gary Sissons
Mount Martha businessman Jagvir Gill, owner of The Chutney Bar in Mornington, immigrated to Australia with his family when he was a boy. They came from a small farming village in the northern Indian state of Punjab. His father was a farmer who came to Australia ahead of his family to work in agriculture.
Coming to Australia was a huge adjustment for Jag. He had to learn a vastly different language and a culture that was totally foreign to him. Other than a love of cricket, he didn’t have anything in common with Australians. He left behind his beloved grandmother and his village. As a Sikh, he wore his hair in a patka (Sikh turban) for which he was regularly teased at school, but he learned to roll with it.
He mastered the art of adaptation as the family moved from place to place following the farming seasons of sugar cane in Northern New South Wales and Queensland and tobacco in the Victorian Alps.
Coming from a Sikh background where hard work, sharing and service are cornerstones, a career in hospitality was a perfect fit for Jag, though it wasn’t where he originally pictured himself. He did a degree in Engineering at RMIT thinking he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as an engineer, but his connection to business and hospitality had a greater pull.
Jag started his first restaurant, The Rasoi (which means kitchen in Punjabi) in Mount Eliza sixteen years ago.
He opened other Rasoi restaurants in Mount Martha, Sorrento, Sandringham and Bright. He also owns and operates The Chutney Bar in Inverloch.
When COVID hit, his businesses adapted and at The Chutney Bar in Mornington, he set up Jag’s Kebabs, serving take away food. It still does a roaring trade as the little window shop is open until 3am on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Offering authentic flavourful food and a unique dining experience is what makes Jag’s restaurants so successful. Every aspect is taken into consideration from the cutlery and crockery to the beautifully appointed décor.
At The Chutney Bar in Mornington, the ceilings are decorated in colourful handwoven Punjabi fabric (phulkari) that a traditional bride wears, but it also insulates the dining space so that patrons can hear one another when the restaurant is busy. Food and drinks, even the cocktails, are paired to bring out the best flavours. As Jag says, “I can make anything taste good.”
Now on offer at The Chutney Bar is a one-of-a-kind on the Mornington Peninsula. It’s called The Maharaja Thali (The Royal Dining Experience) and it’s an education in Indian cuisine. It can be served for one or two, but it includes a selection of curries, spiced yogurt, chutney, papadums, dessert and mango lassi. Each dish represents a different region of India.
While Indian food might be perceived by the uninitiated as too hot and spicy for an Australian palate, it is in fact a smorgasbord of flavour from mild to wild. There is something for every palate and the Royal Dining Experience gives the opportunity to discover the best in Indian cuisine all on one platter.
(The food can be adapted to suit Vegans and Vegetarians and those with food allergies.)
Jag credits his parents for his passion for flavour. Both were great cooks. He worked alongside his father at The Rasoi in Mount Eliza and viewed him as an inventor in the kitchen. He was a natural chef with exquisite taste and he passed that on to his son. Together they made all of the bases from scratch and concocted new flavours by trail and error.
Despite his incredible success in business, Jag says, “You never stop learning in hospitality.” That’s what they teach at his hospitality school in Melbourne. It’s called AVETA (Australian Vocational Education and Training Academy), offering courses and diplomas in everything from commercial cookery and hospitality to business and leadership management.
From a little rural farming village in Northern India to the Mornington Peninsula, Jag has brought his hardworking ethic, sharing culture and finely developed palate to build a small hospitality empire in Victoria. He is a real testament to the immigrant experience.
Book in to The Chutney Bar in Mornington to experience The Maharaja Thali and taste the real flavours of India. Know that this dining experience is coming from an authentic place.
LAMB ROGAN JOSH
- 3.5 tbsp ghee, substitute butter
- 6 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tbsp ginger, finely grated
- 5 tbsp tomato passata
- 1 tsp salt
- 750g/1.5lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3cm/1.2″ cubes
- 1.5 cups / 375ml chicken stock, salt reduced (broth)
- 2 tbsp paprika, normal or sweet
- ¾ tsp chilli powder
- 4 tsp ground coriander
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp garam marsala
- ½ tsp fennel powder
Melt ghee over medium heat in large heavy based pot. Add cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and cook for one minute.
Add onion and cook for 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until pieces are golden and starting the brown on the edges.
Add the garlic and ginger, cook for another minute.
Stir in the spices, cook for 30 seconds.
Mix in the tomato puree and salt, then add stock and mix.
Add lamb, stir, bring to simmer.
Place lid on and adjust heat to low or medium-low so it’s simmering gently.
Cook 1 hour 45 minutes, giving it an occasional stir, until lamb is quite tender. Use 2 forks to check – it should pry apart pretty easily.
Remove lid, and continue cooking for another
15 minutes (to reduce sauce slightly) – lamb should be very tender by this stage.
Stir in the Yogurt, the extra garam marsala and fennel. Cook for another few minutes.
Serve with basmati rice, sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves and other garnishes if desired.
The Chutney Bar, 44 Main Street, Mornington
P: 5976 1006