The first time someone described me as an entrepreneur, I looked at him and said, “Dude, I’m an Indian! Every Indian is an entrepreneur.” We haggle and wheel and deal. I learned that sitting on the sidelines of my father’s clothing business. To me the word ‘entrepreneur’ is really just an English word for being a wheeling, dealing, haggling Indian!
Money has never motivated me. I could be homeless but if someone could point at me and say, “That’s Vikram Vij. He changed the way Indian food is perceived in this country,” I’d be fine with that. That I have succeeded here without giving up my Indian-ness is important to me. Look at how I dress! Scarves, jewelry. If I had to wear a suit I would die. It would be like asking a polar bear to live in Singapore. I just don’t know how to be anything other than what I am.
If you ask me how I describe myself I would say in this order: chef, sommelier, restaurateur, entrepreneur, maybe a bit of a visionary for bringing Indian food to the mainstream, and then a human being who wants to help others achieve their dreams the way my father helped me to achieve mine. If you have a little light, I’ll make a flame out of it. I’ll make a fireplace out of it!
People can sense passion. At the Good Food & Drink Festival, where I was giving a cooking demonstration, there was this little Indian woman who came up and gave me a hug. She had tears in her eyes and she said ‘I am so proud of what you have done for Indian food. You have given all us mothers and mothers-in-law a pat on the back.’ She felt her cooking was glorified now. That was so welcoming. When a woman wearing a sari comes running after you, well, that puts it in perspective. You walk away thinking, ‘Wow.’
Being on the next season of Dragons’ Den is like playing hockey against Wayne Gretzky, Jarome Iginla and Mario Lemieux at the same time. I have to shoot the puck, make a goal, try and get enough ice time… I mean these Dragons are strong people and I am the new guy. I don’t want to be a one-season wonder. I want to be there for a long time so I am preparing myself and studying as hard as I can.
Even now, though, it’s still all about the food. If your food is not good, nobody is going to buy it. You can do any amount of marketing in the world but if the product is not good it will eventually come down. My marketing strategy has always been, ‘Just taste my food. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay for it. But at least give me the respect of tasting it.’ And please don’t call me a celebrity chef. What is that? You don’t go to school to become a celebrity. At the end of the day, we are all equal.
Bio: Vikram Vij
If the high-flying entrepreneurial life ever wanes for acclaimed chef, certified sommelier, restaurateur, author and television personality Vikram Vij, he has a bright future as a writer of stupendously catchy daily affirmations. The Indian-born, Vancouver-based food mogul – widely credited with elevating Indian fare to an undreamed-of haute cuisine level – is madly quotable yet he clearly shoots from the heart. With four (presently five) thriving left coast restaurants, two cookbooks, a fast-expanding grocery store line of pre-packaged curries and a TV CV soon to feature Dragons’ Den alongside Top Chef Canada, Chopped Canada and Recipe to Riches, Vij is a quintuple-threat dynamo, albeit one ably assisted by wife Meeru Dhalwala, his omnipresent teammate since flagship eatery Vij’s launched in 1994. As he thunders towards his 50th birthday on December 22, Vij can revel in the knowledge that he may be the only guy on the planet with absolutely no time-travel advice to his 20-year-old self, who launched his esteemed cooking career in, of all places, Austria. “I would not change anything,” he howls. “I love everything that I have done!”