Vikram Vij: Dragon’s Den star, celebrated restaurateur talks Van Island culture

Vancouver Island may be known for Nanaimo bars, and the rest of the province is known for the Dragon from BC – Vikram Vij.

The restaurateur and Top Chef (literally, he was a guest judge on the show) has redesigned Indian food across the province and across the country.

However, he is not just a master in the kitchen; he is a business leader and an expert in his field. So, who better to give advice to a new soccer club on how they should try to excel in their craft? Vij is the author of a book on trials and triumphs in a new, uncharted territory. From a saag paneer to a soccer pitch, Vij knows the common thread is passion.

Sonja Missio chats with former Dragon’s Den star and current culinary king Vikram Vij, talking food, football, and the future of Pacific FC.

What should the rest of Canada expect from Vancouver Island fans?

Vikram: One thing I have learned about Canadian sports fans is that they are extremely passionate – but they are also polite! I’ve been to many sports games over the years – here and in Europe and India. Passion is a universal thing among sports fans, but you hear less swearing and less abuse in Canada, and I think in Vancouver and on the island especially, there is a lot of respect for the players … most of the time, anyways!

What makes Vancouver Island sports culture so special or different from the rest of Canada?

Vikram: Well, as I just mentioned, the fans are supportive of teams in general in Canada I think – but on the west coast, we might be a little bit more laid back in our approach at times. I haven’t been to too many games on the east coast, so it’s hard to compare them. The games I go to are usually in BC!

It’s game day: Where do you recommend people to eat?

Vikram: There are some great places to eat on the Island – my favourites are the ones where they are being creative with local ingredients, producers and suppliers. Of course, I’m going to recommend going to Vij’s Sutra most of all! We have a wonderful establishment in the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson, which is open for lunch and dinner every day (#6-1701 Douglas Street, unit S13 Victoria). You can also order ahead to pick up a freshly cooked hot dinner to go, or you can get a meal from our freezer and cook it at home. That last option doesn’t really work for game-day though, so I’d suggest going before the game, where you can also try some local beer and wine!

Speaking of which, besides Nanaimo bars, what makes west coast cuisine?

Vikram: I would say for the Island in particular, the amazing seafood. We have such a wealth of wonderful fresh fish and shellfish on our doorstep – we just need to protect it, sustain it, and use every part of the fish to honour the life it gave us.

As a former Dragon, I have to ask: what do you think will make this team successful?

Vikram: One word: Passion. To make a business successful, you need the drive and the desire to make things happen. It’s the same with sports – when you love and believe in something passionately, you can achieve your goals. Of course, the other team has passion too – that is why you need focus to ensure everyone’s passion and their drive to win is pointed in the same direction.

What message do you have for the team/athletes?

Vikram: I would say to learn from every experience, good or bad. You’re not always going to win, but learning from those bad times is so important – not getting defeated and putting your head down. What went wrong, how do I fix it next time? Those are the questions you should ask – don’t take things personally. And don’t listen to the haters – there will be plenty of them!

Vikram Vij is an award-winning chef, author, certified sommelier, and former Dragon. When not being features on “Best of” lists, Vij can be found supporting the sustainable food industry and overseeing his restaurants, including Vij’s Restaurant, Vij’s Rangoli, Vij’s Sutra, and My Shanti. In 2013, Vij’s Kitchen opened at the University of British Columbia, where the culinary lab acts as a teaching and learning space in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems.