Vikram Vij says suc­cess came at a cost

Famed chef ad­mits ego led to the end of his mar­riage

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - BOOKS - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Vikram Vij never dreamed he would be­come an ac­claimed chef in his adopted home­land, or that he would own a culi­nary em­pire by the age of 50.

Nor did the Van­cou­ver­based chef fore­see he would be called upon by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and De­fence Min­is­ter Harjit Sajjan to cook for Cana­dian Forces over­seas, or that he would serve celebri­ties like Tom Cruise and Martha Ste­wart.

In his new mem­oir, Vij: A Chef’s One-Way Ticket to Canada with In­dian Spices in His Suit­case (Pen­guin Ran­dom House), the chef re­flects on his jour­ney from In­dia to Aus­tria, where he went to school, and fi­nally to Canada.

“I’m like this lit­tle kitchen knife,” he says dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view in Toronto, while hold­ing up a chef’s knife.

“I went to Aus­tria and I was beaten and shaped. And I was sharp­ened in Canada. This is who I am. I’m an al­loy of these three coun­tries. Knives are never made of one el­e­ment. They’re made of two, three dif­fer­ent el­e­ments.”

Vij says his goal through­out his ca­reer has been to ex­pose Cana­di­ans to the cook­ing cul­ture he left be­hind in In­dia and show that the cui­sine is more than but­ter chicken and tikka masala.

He uses lo­cal food and drink and adds his own twist.

“I’m not say­ing I’m au­then­tic In­dian. I am Vikram Vij and that’s the food you’re eat­ing...We’re all prod­ucts of where we live,” he says.

The Amritsar, In­dia-born chef says he’s de­lighted that Cana­di­ans have em­braced his style of cook­ing, and pointed to a fundraiser in Chatham, Ont., last week that at­tracted 175 peo­ple.

“Imag­ine 25 years ago if some­body had said, ‘Let’s go and watch an In­dian chef cook and eat his food,’ prob­a­bly five peo­ple would have showed up, and out of those five, four of them would have been fam­ily mem­bers be­cause they would have been there just to sup­port you,” Vij says.

“So my point is we’ve come a long way as a na­tion.”

He too has come a long way and cred­its his ex-wife Meeru Dhal­wala for help­ing him build his brand.

Along with his flag­ship restau­rant Vij’s, opened in 1994, he and Dhal­wala also co-own Ran­goli and have col­lab­o­rated on three books: Vij’s at Home: Re­lax, Honey; Vij’s: El­e­gant and In­spired In­dian Cui­sine; and Vij’s In­dian.

Vij also be­came a house­hold name in Canada with TV show ap­pear­ances on Top Chef Canada, Chopped Canada, Recipe to Riches and Dragons’ Den, which helped his em­pire grow to in­clude other restau­rants and a food truck, plus part­ner­ships with brands in­clud­ing Air Canada, Chefs Plate and Neal Broth­ers.

But he ad­mits his suc­cess has come at the ex­pense of his mar­riage.

The cou­ple still do work to­gether and have weekly fam­ily din­ners with their daugh­ters when they’re all in Van­cou­ver.

“I still love Meeru. We hang out all the time. We joke all the time. She is the love of my life. I have hurt her tremen­dously be­cause of my ego, do­ing 50 things by the age of 50. And I’m OK to ad­mit it be­cause ad­mit­ting to your crime is the first step to­wards re­cov­ery. You can al­ways point fin­gers and say, ‘She did it. He did it.’

“I put it in the book: ‘If you’re go­ing to fail, fail loudly. Say it: I screwed up.’”

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