TORONTO — Vancouver chef Vikram Vij delighted a crowd of 80 members of the foodservice industry with tales of his rise to success, during Kostuch Media’s fifth instalment of its Icons and Innovators Breakfast series, led by Rosanna Caira F&H’s editor and publisher.
“Everybody in life has a calling,” began the chef, who was born in India and received culinary training in Austria. “My calling was to bring Indian cuisine to the rest of the world.” Immigrating to Canada in 1989, Vij honed his skills in various restaurants, including the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta and Bishop’s in Vancouver. He felt Canada was lacking authentic Indian cuisine. “We needed to bring the Indian hospitality of love — a cup of chai and something savoury to eat,” he says. In 1994, thanks to a hefty loan from his father, he opened Vij’s to spotlight traditional Indian cooking techniques and spices, made with local food.
Today, the chef runs his empire with the help of his wife, Meeru Dhalwala. The network of ventures includes Vij’s, Rangoli and Vij’s Railway Express food truck, which features “whimsical” variations of traditional meals served across India.
The key to success, says the chef, is treating his customers as if they are guests in his home. For instance, he believes in forgoing reservations and serving snacks as his guests wait for a table. “I don’t take reservations, because Gandhi said we are all equal,” and I follow that philosophy, said the chef. “Who cares how much money you have, I will give [each guest] the same treatment.”
To Vij, cooking Indian food is about more than the ingredients. “Don’t eat meat and potatoes, don’t eat pasta only because it’s convenient,” he said, encouraging the crowd to enjoy Indian cuisine. “When you eat different foods you build tolerances amongst each other, you break down barriers and you understand each other’s cuisines.”
With that in mind, the chef will continue to promote Indian food with news that he’ll soon be opening another Vancouver restaurant. And, although the new gig will see him return to the kitchen to prepare dishes inspired by his travels to India, it’s a sure bet guests will still see him in the front of the house, too. After all, he “loves” talking to people. “Some people are peacocks; I’m a peacock,” he jested. “I’m not afraid to say that.”