Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Vikram Vij went to the Middle East to cook for Canada’s military troops. The celebrity chef returned to Vancouver so moved by what he calls “probably the highlight of my life and experience on earth” that he is encouraging his two daughters and other Canadian youth to consider joining the nation’s defence corps.
“I would tell my kids to serve for one or two years, to see how lucky we are, and to witness what those people in uniform are doing to ensure we live the way we do,” says Vij, who travelled overseas during Christmas weekend. “I said to my girls if either of you have the guts to do it, I would fully support it, and they both looked at me and said no. But that’s ok. You have to be of a certain nature in order to be in the military. I think most people would decide to quit or that they couldn’t handle it after just a couple of weeks, or less. I spent three days on the ship and I don’t know if I could’ve stayed much longer. You have to put up with so much. It’s tough.”
The sleeping quarters on the billion-dollar HMCS Charlottetown were so claustrophobic he “didn’t get any sleep whatsoever for those three days,” he says. Showering was near impossible and a thin film of dust was everywhere and was on everything and “that film of dust it can get to you after a while.” The galley kitchen had vegetables and chicken, and Vij carried his own spices for his recipes.
He cooked his famous chicken curry for 250 people on board the HMCS Charlottetown, as well as coconut curry with vegetables for vegetarians and lactose-intolerant diners. On a military base in Kuwait, he cooked again for more than 40 military personnel. Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan joined Vij and was the one who informed him that his tour would be cut short because of fighting in the region. Vij was supposed to go to Iraq but a skirmish in Baghdad during the last week of December prompted the Canadian military to decide against sending such a prominent civilian into the country.
Nonetheless, Vij had a few thrilling encounters. He and Sajjan were on a Sea King helicopter during training exercises. “They kept the door open. We had to put our legs outside. When the helicopter goes back and forth and makes sharp turns, I felt like I was going to fall into the water. Even though there was a harness, I felt I was going to dangle like a monkey,” Vij says about one of the most overwhelming experiences of his life.
Engaging with the troops, though, is what the former “Dragon’s Den” star will remember most. He calls the conditions the military live in “heart-wrenching” and says that the men and women he spoke to unanimously told him to tell Canadians “don’t forget us.”
It’s a reason why Vij is eager to talk about his Middle East tour. He had approached Sajjan in 2015 with the idea of cooking for the troops and when the defence minister’s office asked him in November 2016 if he was still interested, Vij was eager for the opportunity, saying he had always wanted to give back to the nation’s defenders of democracy.
Now that he’s back home, he has returned to delivering outstanding dining experiences for diners in southern British Columbia. The first significant event for his restaurants takes place on Monday at My Shanti, Vij’s establishment in suburban Surrey that ranked among the Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada in 2015. Vij is collaborating with Stefan Hartmann, the outstanding chef of acclaimed Bauhaus in downtown Vancouver. Hartmann, who enjoyed cooking Indian cuisine in his native Germany, will be preparing curry dishes while Vij, who studied culinary arts in Vienna, will prepare European fare. Both chefs are featured in the recently released “Inspired Cooking” charity cookbook.
“I cook German or Austrian food for my girls all the time, but I haven’t done it in public,” Vij says, “so I’m a little scared and a little nervous.”
MORE ABOUT THE BAUHAUS & MY SHANTI DINNER
Date: Monday, January 16, 2017
Location: 15869 Croydon Drive, Surrey, BC (see map below)
Cost: $99 per person, plus tax, for a four-course dinner plus wine pairing.
More Coverage: My Shanti Showcases Diverse Flavours of India
SUPPORT THE ‘INSPIRED COOKING’ PROJECT
Vikram Vij and Stefan Hartmann of Bauhaus are among the 20 esteemed chefs profiled in the “Inspired Cooking” cookbook. Vacay.ca has teamed with InspireHealth to produce one of the most exciting and important cookbooks to ever hit the bookshelves in Canada. More than 60 recipes are included in the stunning cookbook published by Vancouver-based Fresh Air Publishing. All proceeds from the charity cookbook go toward InspireHealth, a government-funded, not-for-profit agency that provides supportive cancer care to patients across Canada. The cookbook was inspired by Julia Pelish-Brijbassi, Vacay.ca’s co-founder who passed away in March 2016 after an 11-month battle with brain cancer. “Inspired Cooking” is edited by her husband, Vacay.ca’s Adrian Brijbassi. Order your copy of the book now and learn more about the project at InspiredCooking.ca.