Celebrity chef, cookbook author and television personality Vikram Vij knows how to entertain a crowd.
He whipped up a frenzy on Wednesday as shoppers and a large contingent of ex-pat people from India dropped by Colemans on Newfoundland Drive to learn how he makes his version of masala, hear a few stories and sign some autographs.
He was in St. John’s to conduct a cooking demonstration, introduce his new line of Vij’s Masala and to deliver a keynote talk later in the day at the Merchant Tavern highlighting his personal immigration journey to Canada and his entrepreneurial success.
Both events were co-ordinated through the St. John’s Board of Trade and Colemans.
He is best known as a former “Dragon’s Den” judge, famed restauranteur and RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award recipient.
“Doing events like this is a crusade to my calling,’’ Vij said.
“This is no different than what the French do with their cuisine. I respect my food, my culture and I treat it the same as the French do,’’ he said.
“I create my own spices and this Masala is made up of cloves, cinnamon, mango powder and is a bit spicy,’’ he added.
He said he is pleased Colemans will carry his Vij’s Masala he introduced on Wednesday, saying it is unique because of the blend of spices he uses.
“It is not the cheapest line of spices but is a quality spice.”
Vij came to Canada in 1989-90 and worked at a restaurant at the Banff Springs Hotel as a line cook.
He was a young chef who spoke his native Indian language, and German, so needing to communicate, he set out to learn English. Vij said he was self-conscious about speaking English so to be able to attempt to express himself he would turn to binge drinking to lower his inhibitions of attempting to speak English.
Eventually he was able to communicate and like most 25- or 26-year-olds, he sought companionship. Banff was not a melting pot of culture at the time, so he had difficulty getting dates because of the colour of his skin.
“I also had trouble with portion sizes of the food I needed to serve. Coming from my homeland, we used small bites and small portions,” he said.
“In this restaurant, there were huge steaks with all the sides. That was a big mindset change for me,’’ he added.
Climbing the ladder and getting ahead was also an interesting challenge for Vij.
He called it a zig-zag puzzle.
“To go from a sous chef to chef, how do you move up? For me, it was just by being there. The people in Banff, they were a transient group and moved to other jobs quite often,’’ he said.
“I would watch for positions to become available and when I could, I would move into those,’’ he added.
Just as he was starting to climb the ladder, he had to make his annual six-month trek, a 110-kilometre trip to Calgary, to have his work visa renewed.
It was denied.
That was in December.
“I didn’t understand why. I had just saved enough money and went out and bought a new car. I didn’t know what to do,’’ he said.
“I cried all the way back from Calgary. I was devastated. Thankfully my girlfriend at the time had an idea and the next thing, we were married and I could apply for a visa,’’ he added.
It was approved on Jan. 19 and he continued his path to success because of her help.
The couple opened a restaurant together and by trying to pass on his vision to the managers and his partner, it was a constant disagreement at home and unfortunately the marriage was lost in the process.
He said there were cash-flow issues at times because he would spend $1,000 on something when he only had $995 and bigger risks than others to get ahead.
But his hard work and diligence in his ventures earned him a host of accolades and respect from people for what he was doing.
Vij is an Indian-born Canadian chef, cookbook author, and television personality.
He and ex-wife Meeru Dhalwala are co-owners of the Indian cuisine restaurants Vij's Restaurant and Rangoli Restaurant in Vancouver.
He also owns My Shanti, a restaurant in South Surrey, B.C.
He appeared for one season of “Dragon’s Den” in 2014.