It’s OK, Farmer Rob knows. Don’t feel like you need to keep the secret that I have a crush on a few men other than my handsome farmer. If you’ve known me for a long time, you know that Chef Michael Smith has always been my rock-star cooking idol, and my boys used to call me from the living room, “Mom, the chef you have a crush on is on TV”! But since we opened the market I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a few chefs, and Vikram Vij may finally have nudged Chef Michael off his long-held esteemed perch. Not only because his famous restaurant, Vij’s, is always my first choice of places to dine in Vancouver, but because his warm and exuberant personality also holds one of the most genuinely humble famous people I’ve been lucky enough to get to know. OK, maybe I don’t personally know that many famous people, but I’m pretty sure not many of them are as gracious as he is.
For someone who now regularly appears on Food Network and gets jetted around the world for special appearances, it’s amazing to me that he agrees to the occasional cooking class at our market and manages to make us all feel like he’s the privileged one to be able to share the evening with us. Tuesday night saw another sold out crowd of 30 eager people personally and warmly greeted by Vikram and his plate of appetizers, and lapping up his vast knowledge of exotic spices and nuances of Indian cooking. He entertained us with countless stories, starting with the heartwarming tale of his mother bundled up in her puffy down coat daily riding the bus from her Richmond home with a pot of the family’s favorite chicken curry tucked between her feet, ready to serve to diners at his first restaurant. His mischievous eyes twinkled as he shared his recent triumph of haggling at Whole Foods for a few dollars off the over-ripe tomatoes.
But what surely gains him the most respect is his telling of growing up in India and being troubled by the preferential treatment afforded the elite class that led him to his decision to not take reservations at his restaurant, giving all his guests equal treatment based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Everyone from Harrison Ford (who recently waited 90 minutes for a table) to sports stars wait in line along with all his other patrons, and all are personally greeted with the same hospitality and respect that makes Vikram one of the most gracious hosts I know. When he bid us all good night with a slight bow, palms pressed together in the respectful Namaste gesture, we were again reminded that an evening of great food and laughter shared with friends is truly one of life’s privileges, a gift not to ever be taken for granted.