Vikram Vij at Savour Stratford
1480 W 11th Avenue
In her opinion:
I love Indian food...at one time that wasn't true but my taste buds have matured and now I crave the exotic, the complex and the delicious. To me that is what Indian cuisine represents. It is a fairly common cuisine to find in Canada due to the amount of immigration that has occurred from that part of Asia. Even in our region, it has become much more popular but there are still individuals that refuse to try it because it's still considered somewhat out of the norm. They don't know what they are missing and those are the people that Vikram Vij hopes to sway.
If you know anything about Indian cuisine, you know that there are "heroes, icons or spokespersons" who represent it well...and in Canada, it's the one and only, Vikram Vij. Vikram was born in India, studied in Europe and eventually ended up in Canada were he finally settled in Vancouver, British Columbia. He opened up a fine dining restaurant, Vij's in 1994 with his wife Meeru Dhalwala. By 2003, Mark Bittman (of the New York Times and one of my culinary favourites) was praising Vij's as "easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world". Having said all that, I knew who Vikram Vij was thanks to The Globe and Mail, Food Network (he was a guest judge on Top Chef Canada Season 1 and 2) and Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation. So when Savour Stratford announced that he would be one of their celebrity chefs, I was excited. As I've mentioned before chefs are the rock stars of my culinary world and after meeting Vikram Vij, I would say he is the equivalent of Neil Young (of course much younger) as far as I'm concerned. Super hip and super cool.
Vikram Vij is so super cool. Did I mention that before. He likes to drop the F-bomb as much as I do and he's emotional about his dadi (grandma)! He also proudly says that "there is nothing low fat about him". Which caused me to adore him even more. I met him several times during the weekend (he always remembered us, was super charming and gracious) beginning with a brief introduction on Savour Stratford's opening night. He was there to cut the ribbon and get the festival started...this was something that he didn't take lightly. He mentioned this fact in one of Savour Stratford's Culinary Talks "Hot Food, Cold wine" where he discussed the best wine to pair with Indian cuisine. His dream of making Indian cuisine as common as Italian or French food has been realized. Indian cuisine is wonderful and Vikram is the perfect spokesperson.
My second meeting was scheduled for early Saturday morning; however, the weather wasn't cooperative and the media event of going on a market shopping trip with Vikram could not go through as planned. Instead, the organizers took us to the Local Community Food Centre to watch as Vikram prepared for the "GE Cafe Chef Series' lunch and cooking demonstration with Vikram Vij". He talked spices and his belief in Ayurveda (the Indian belief of using spices for health). He also equated butter chicken or chicken tikka masala to pancakes in the North American diet. It's not exciting...it's a stable. I was pretty impressed with this statement...Indian food is so much more then butter chicken (unless it's coming from the Bombay Grill).
During my different interactions with Chef Vij, I learned the following:
-The base of Indian food is the trinity of onion, ginger and garlic...which causes a wonderful aroma of flavour and is a starting point for most Indian dishes where you can build from!
-That if anyone says they are allergic to curry - they are full of "bullshit". Curry is not a spice but a combination of spices...coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon, etc.
-Vikram compared himself to Ghandi...much like Ghandi whose mission was to liberate India from the English...he wanted to bring awareness to the cuisine and culture. This is what he describes as his calling.
-He's passionate about his craft and does an excellent job of representing Indian cuisine.
-Vij's Restaurant doesn't take reservations...it's a first come first serve and there are no exceptions even for the queen! Everyone is equal...every person is the same. Robin Williams waited in line...ended up giving an impromptu show in the courtyard at Vij's. Pierre Trudeau waited in line at Vij's silencing a room before they returned to their meals. I love this attitude.
-Every Indian chef has their way of cooking a particular recipe.
-Indian cuisine is the best for vegetarians and people on a gluten free diet.
-He believes in having a little less of something then taking the flavour out of it by substituting a lower fat ingredient.
-Most importantly his cuisine is excellent. The small amount that I tasted made me want to travel to Vancouver and visit Vij's. It was by far some of the best I have ever eaten.
Overall, I would say that Vikram Vij only helped confirm my passion for Indian cuisine. He was the prefect representative of Savour Stratford's theme of "globally inspired, locally grown"...a philosophy that Vij and Dhalwala pratice in their restaurant, where they use traditional spices and techniques with locally grown produce, meats and seafood. Namaste.
In his opinion:
I would be lying if I said that as soon as I heard that Vikram Vij was to be one of the headliners at Savour Stratford, that I wasn't excited. Not only is he the face of Indian Cuisine in Canada, but he is also a passionate chef, a legend in the Canadian Food scene and one of the most electrifying people you will ever met.
This year's Savour Stratford event was titled "globally inspired, locally grown" and that is exactly what Chef Vij is. Born in India, trained in traditional French Cuisine and made a name for himself at the least likely place for an
Indian man in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
One of the first things that strike you about Chef Vij is the passion in which he talks about food in general but particularly about food from his homeland India. He strives to bring education and information about this cuisine, that as far as he is concerned, is among the best in the world and I tend to agree.
His demonstrations at the Savour Stratford event surely converted quite a few people to try and enjoy Indian cuisine because as he puts it, "it is the best cuisine for vegetarians and dietary types, the heat from the spices is a natural way for the body to cool down and because no one can say they are allergic to curry, being that curry is a blend of spices".
His views on the world of Indian cuisine are pretty simple and are in line with the trends of many other chefs Canada wide. Use top quality fresh ingredients, prepare them with the best spices possible and make it accessible to anyone and everyone. Vij's Restaurant, even though considered an upscale restaurant does just that. It brings Vikram's passion for food to the masses and it just happen to be Indian cuisine which is what Chef Vij grew up with and loves.
Savour Stratford had Chef Vij in a few of it's highlight events and he single handily stole the show, everywhere he went. It is impossible not to give your full attention to a man that speaks from his heart and has as his most important goals in life, to dismiss the fact that Indian cuisine is hard to cook, to educate people that think that Indian food is "Butter Chicken" and to delight everyone with his food and his beloved Indian food culture.
In my opinion, Savour Stratford could not have picked a better spokesperson for this event. Vikram Vij is the perfect person to spearhead a collection of chefs and foodies alike in the direction of wanting more Indian food done the good old way. Cooked with love and without cutting corners. Just like Vikram's inspiration, his grandmother used to do and taught him to.