In Vancouver, Vikram Vij is a culinary rockstar. Diners line up outdoors his eating places, even in biting chilly, fortified by masala chai, for his signature cooking. His meals has received a number of awards, drawing press and TV personalities from the world over, together with the late Antony Bourdain and Giada De Laurentiis. He runs 4 eating places, and a meals truck, Vij’s Railway Specific. He’s additionally launched cookbooks, and has a line of frozen, ready-to-eat meals.
In Chennai, Vikram is nameless. India in spite of everything, is extra accustomed to British, European, and American celeb cooks, due to TV and Netflix. However, Vikram is not possible to miss, together with his large persona, flamboyant power and gender-fluid nostril ring, accentuated by jingling bracelets.
In life and cooking, Vikram resists labels. “I am not an Indian chef,” he says, settling down for a chat over dinner. “I am a classically trained French chef. I put myself on a plate: I am India born, using Canadian ingredients and French techniques.”
He pauses to spear a coconut prawn together with his fork: dinner is at Zhouyu, the Chinese language restaurant newly launched by Chindi Varadarajulu. Chindi grew up in Singapore after which moved to Vancouver to open a South Indian restaurant, known as Chutney Villa, after which she started travelling to India with meals tour teams. She ended up settling down in Chennai in 2012, opening Pumpkin Tales, and now Zhouyu.
Vikram additionally hosts culinary excursions, and is now travelling via South India with a gaggle of Canadians. At Zhouyu, his group chats animatedly about their day at a neighborhood market and the thrill of consuming freshly made porottas. Since it’s a non-public dinner, Chindi has received her cooks to made crisp vadais. In any case, with individuals who actually love meals, cuisines don’t must be categorised. And guidelines are supposed to be damaged.
Which is why, as a 19-year-old who wished to prepare dinner for a dwelling, Vikram realised that he wanted to depart the nation to develop an impartial culinary fashion. “I could not do this being in India. I needed validation from outside to be taken seriously here,” he says matter of factly, including, “I needed to learn European techniques. I needed to learn French. I had to become a certified sommelier.”
In 1983, Vikram left residence in Amritsar, to review Lodge Administration in Salzburg, Austria. After working in Salzburg and Vienna, he moved to Canada in 1989 and opened his first restaurant, Vij’s, in Vancouver, plating up a method of Indian meals influenced by his roots however not dictated by them. “I never followed family recipes, though they were embedded in my mind. I took those flavours and modernised them,” he says. “When I opened, I thought: I won’t be like all the other Indian restaurants. I won’t call this Taj Mahal. I won’t even say authentic Indian. After all, who defines authenticity?”
Vij’s opened with 18 seats and a workers of 1 particular person: Vikram. “When my parents came to visit from India, papa sold some property and brought me money in a brown paper bag! My mother wanted me to serve the best chicken curry possible, so she made it at home, and brought it to my restaurant on the bus balancing it on her knees all the way.”
His menu, nonetheless, was fashionable Indian. “I serve a rack of lamb marinated in mustard and white wine. That’s French. However the sauce is a fenugreek kurma sauce,” he says, including with fun, “After all, there was a push again from the Indian diners. They mentioned it was not genuine. However I’d be there, sporting a kurta-pyjama, and I’d communicate to them in fluent Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu, and they might agree to provide it an opportunity.”
When Mark Bittman from The New York Instances visited anonymously, and wrote a overview on Vij’s calling it ‘easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world,’ diners started to queue up outdoors.
Right now, Vikram and his ex-wife Meeru Dhalwala run Vij’s, and the extra informal Rangoli, which encompasses a stylish glocal-Indian plates like broccoli, bacon and black chickpea curry, or savoury crepes with grilled kale. He and Meeru nonetheless have a robust partnership: “My ex-wife is the mother of my daughters. She is involved in the cooking, and runs the kitchens. I never want to take the credit away: she is an integral part of the restaurants,” he says.
Vikram additionally has a solo restaurant, My Shanti, with a menu based mostly on his travels throughout India, that includes Hyderabad-inspired duck biryani, in addition to gunpowder prawns and wild boar kebabs.
His most charming legacy, nonetheless, is his Punjabi, all-woman workforce. “It started when I needed a dishwasher, and my Punjabi head cook suggested someone from her village,” he says, explaining the way it has inadvertently grown right into a support-group of types for first and second technology immigrants.
“None of them are chefs. All of them have worked so hard to educate their children, sending them to great schools and now the kids have good jobs… The day-time ladies don’t know the menu, they grind dal, prep vegetables and leave. Then the next batch comes and starts putting it together,” says Vikram.
For them, work isn’t just about creating edgy fashionable Indian meals. It’s cooking the best way their grandmothers did again in India: as a group.