Monday May 01, 2017

How Canada launched Vikram Vij's culinary empire

Restaurateur Vikram Vij tells his story in his new memoir.

Restaurateur Vikram Vij tells his story in his new memoir. (CBC)

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Vikram Vij's culinary career began with a handful of traditional Indian spices his mother tucked into his suitcase when he left his homeland at 19 to study hotel management in Austria. He was working in a kitchen when a manager of the Banff Springs Hotel walked into the restaurant and requested a spicy meal. Vij ran upstairs, grabbed a few spices and created an unforgettable dish that would change the course of his life.

Six weeks later, Vij received an envelope in the mail with a six-month working visa and a one-way ticket to Canada, where he would eventually establish a massive culinary empire. The chef and restaurateur's life and career are the focus of his new book, Vij: A Chef's One-Way Ticket to Canada with Indian Spices in His Suitcase.

Vij book cover

Vij's book delves into the difficult and rewarding moments that have defined his life and career. (Penguin)

Focus, honesty and integrity

I realized that if I was going to write something, I was going to be honest and truthful about it. It may hurt somebody. But it is important that if you're going to write something, be honest. Be straightforward. Have the guts to be the man that you want to be or the woman that you want to be or the person that you want to be. You shouldn't have to hide. This is not because I was going to sell the books. It is more like here's my book — even if I sold only one book ever, I will still be as proud of this book as I am today. Because I feel that I've been able to share my journey and to be a motivation to young cooks and people who are doing jobs they feel they cannot get themselves out of. Remaining focused, working hard with honesty and integrity will get you what you want to do. 

Finding opportunity in Canada

I cannot thank Canada enough for giving me the chance and the opportunity to be part of this great nation and the fact that I don't need to change myself. I can be who I am. I am a colourful part of this mosaic, of this fabric, where I can have rings and earrings and piercings. I can wear my Indian clothes and just be who I am. I am the best unappointed ambassador of this country. When I leave Canada, I go out there and I tout it and say, "We Canadians are so proud of what we have."

Vikram Vij's comments have been edited and condensed.