Vikram Vij – a name popular in Vancouver’s culinary industry and among BC’s South Asian community. With successful restaurants such as Vij’s, Vij’s Rangoli and My Shanti in prime locations in and around Vancouver, one eagerly awaits the successful chef’s next food innovation or opening. And as expected, each initiative of Vij has been better than the last – the recent one being his association with Air Canada and the introduction of his food on their Vancouver to New Delhi flights. It is only fair to say that celebrity chef Vikram Vij is one of the newsmakers of 2016.
Vij describes 2016 as being “tumultuous with lots of ups and downs.” He clarifies the statement saying, “2016 was a year that I wanted to completely break even in my factory. It was a very successful year for me from the factory point of view, but there were a few things that didn’t live up to my expectations. Overall, I will be happy to forget 2016 and move on to 2017 and hopefully it brings more positive energy.”
Coming back to his association with Air Canada, Vij really went into a lot of depth in thinking what he was going to make for the people on the flight. He wanted to make sure that the taste of the food and the flavours were right. “I fly a lot myself and I wanted people to have a lighter style of food, not masalewala (full of spices) curry because then you drink too much water and are uncomfortable,” shares the chef, calling this partnership one of his biggest achievements. “Being a Vancouverite and a chef from Vancouver, the Indian food going to India was definitely a top achievement of mine.”
Sharing a glimpse of the menu, he talks about a naan (Indian bread) that he creatively calls the ‘teardrop’ naan. “It looks like a tear which means that if you’re going to India after all these years, you are going to be nostalgic about it. And if you are a non-Indian who hasn’t been to India before and always dreamed of wanting to go to India, you get nostalgic about it.”
Another 2016 accomplishment was the opening of his restaurant Vij’s on Cambie Street in Vancouver. “2016 has been a wow year for me – on one side I was so high and feeling great and on the other side I wasn’t. The biggest achievement was having Air Canada food on the flight and breaking even on the factory,” adds the restaurant owner, who also owns Vij’s Railway Express, a mobile food truck serving top quality Indian curries to people in downtown Vancouver for weekday lunch and private catering events.
I ask Vij what inspires him to do better each day. He passionately answers, “The love of the country, the culture, the desire to be respected in a culinary world, to understand that our cuisine is complex as any other cuisine in the world is what motivates me and keeps me going day in and day out.” The fact that more and more people are enjoying the Indian cuisine is another strong motivator for this Masterchef. “It’s the awareness that more and more people are eating Indian food is what motivates me, not the money,” says Vij, who has won many awards for himself and for his restaurants.
In 2011, he was honoured with the Rising Star Award by the BC Food Processors Association, and The Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Pacific Region’s Hospitality and Tourism category. The Surrey Board of Trade named him as Surrey’s Business Person of the Year in 2014. He also received the Chevrolet Ingenuity Award for exceptional creativity and skill at RBC’s 2015 Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. In April 2015, Vij was named Chef of the Year in Vancouver Magazine’s prestigious Restaurant Awards. Vij’s Restaurant also received the magazine’s Best Indian Award in 2015; and in 2016, My Shanti won the Gold award in that category.
This year, Vij wishes for My Shanti to flourish a bit more. “To be more creative with the food, to spend more time in the kitchen, to be able to showcase the diversity of India and the diversity of the country and to allow people to enjoy.” His personal goal, he says, “would be after people have eaten at Vij’s or My Shanti, they would want to go to India to see what a beautiful country we have, what a beautiful democracy we have, to enjoy the different cultures and cuisines within India.”
What was your biggest highlight this year personally?
My biggest personal highlight was that I managed to keep the balance of work and play intact. I was able to work hard and do whatever I wanted to do and also managed personally to go to the gym, be healthy and be focussed. I was able to regroup myself in that sense.
What does success mean to you?
Success to me equals legacy. If people feel I have done something for them or with them, for e.g. I slept in the cold outside for the homeless kids last year. To be able to go through that overnight, not eat and not be able to sleep properly, I think it’s successful. To raise funds for these young homeless kids was definitely a very successful thing for me on a personal level. On an emotional level, to give back to the community I love so much whether it’s Indo-Canadian or Canadian. I feel I do a good job of bringing awareness to the Indian cuisines, to Indian diaspora, to Indians, and remaining focussed and not getting lost in the shuffle.
What’s your advice for those who wish to follow your path?
My advice is don’t take anybody’s advice, do what you want to do and do it with utmost love and passion. Listen to your heart and gut and what you think is the right thing to do. After that surround yourself with smart, intelligent people and people who give positive energy to you. Also, cook lots of great food and travel.