By: Jess Dela Cruz
It’s 12:30 in the afternoon and your three hour lecture just finished. You knew from experience that the 145 was going to be late this morning and didn’t have time to pack food for your six hour long school day. Either Cornerstone is too far, you’ve already had Tim Hortons every day this week, or the construction will just add time to your 50 minute window to find another place to eat. At this moment, you’d want something that is warm, filling and flavourful.
Mackenzie Café had a busy morning on Friday September 13, with crowds of media, cameras, lights, and excited guests. Chef Vikram Vij opened up his new restaurant, Vij’s Indian Cuisine, this past week at SFU’s Mackenzie Café with a big celebration that included a ribbon cutting ceremony, Bollywood-style dancing, free henna, televised interviews, and an appearance from SFU President Andrew Petter. Vij has restaurants in Vancouver, South Surrey, and Vancouver Island. He also has written cookbooks and made multiple appearances on TV — one of which was Dragon’s Den.
The renowned chef’s career successes were highlighted amongst various speakers. President Petter stated that “food is a very important component of campus life” and Vij’s food “is worth lining up for.”
Vij also made a speech to highlight the purpose and vision of his food, but more importantly, how food in general affects student life on campus. He noted that students from all over the world leave behind their parents, siblings, partners, and friends to study at SFU. In an interview with The Peak, Vij said, “universities that embrace that culture of breaking bread together with people from different cultures actually embrace diversity.” He continues, “As an immigrant, I know it’s not easy [ . . . ] to fly away to a foriegn land without [knowing the] language.”
Through his food, Vij wants to bring a similar feeling of home to students for co
mfort. He adds, “I wanted to serve home cooked meals [to students] who are either missing their homes or [ . . . ] want to try something different so they feel they are apart of this beautiful country.”
Another main focus for Vij and SFU is sustainability. To this end, Vij’s restaurant offers Eco-Box, a reusable container to package food.
Vij and SFU have had quite the relationship over the past few years. He tells The Peak, “SFU has always had a special place for me because I am actually not even a graduate from India. SFU is the first one to recognize the hard work that I put in and then they gave me an honorary degree. . . It was so overwhelming and touching for me.”
He also touched on the impact his mother had on him with the food she cooked. Vij recalls how his mother would make chicken curry at home, cover the pot with a plastic bag, and deliver it to her son’s restaurant by bus — which, as he notes, made the whole bus smell of Indian food.
“For twenty years, she never told me that everyone made fun of her on the bus,” Vij remarks. “That love of a mother is what made [sic] me so touched. And all these students are away from their mothers, and their fathers, and their families. So why not give them that comfort of home, of the spices [ . . . ] The food is meant to bring you comfort.”
Vij notes that diversity is a core mission of SFU, and that it’s an important ingredient in his cuisine too – “diverse, deep in tradition, respectful of everybody else, and most importantly [allows] people to have food from different parts of the world,” said Vij.
“When you break bread with people you are sitting with, you build tolerance towards each other [and] you learn to respect each other.”
Vij’s Indian Cuisine is now open in SFU’s Mackenzie Café on the Burnaby Campus. The menu has items such as butter chicken, ‘daily special entree,’ pakoras, and mango lassi, with the highest price menu item being $9.99. The Mackenzie Café is open from Monday to Thursday 7:30 a.m.– 8 p.m. and Friday 7:30 – 6 p.m.