Vikram Vij has shared Indian recipes and cooking techniques with countless people over the years through his cookbooks and classes. Now, Vancouver’s celebrity chef is lending his name—and teaching talents—to UBC.
“I’d love to see the creation of a course geared towards multicultural cuisines. I believe when you eat food from all over the world, you become more tolerant towards other human beings,” says Vij who contributed $250,000 for the extensive makeover of a UBC culinary lab originally built in 1982.
The facility, now called Vij’s Kitchen, is located on UBC’s Vancouver campus in the Food, Nutrition and Health Building on East Mall.
The renovated lab provides a vital learning space for basic food theory, food preparation in a domestic setting and multicultural culinary exchange, says LFS Prof. Gwen Chapman, associate dean, academic.
“In addition to the basic skills, the goal is to provide dietetics and home economics students the opportunity to explore diverse cuisines,” says Chapman, who is also the director of the Food, Nutrition and Health (FNH) program. “Students familiar with Asian traditions will learn Western cooking techniques and vice versa.
Comprising six kitchen stations and a demonstration kitchen, Vij’s Kitchen has new audiovisual equipment. This allows for filming, videoconferencing and distance education, such as a recent course on healthy food ideas for childcare providers in Aboriginal communities.
The majority of students using the lab are dietetics students who are making dishes as varied as fruit pies, and butternut squash soup. Later this month, Whitney Hussain, a fourth-year dietetics major, will also be using the facility to cook a five-course meal for 100 guests as one of the volunteer chefs for the annual LFS fall harvest community dinner. Prepared and served by students, the semi-formal dinner costs $45–$35 for students—and includes wine and beer.
“We’re going to make coq au vin and vegetarian nut loaf for our mains and finish with poached pears in wine,” says Hussain. “We want to source all our ingredients locally.”
The prospect of making a huge, complex meal is exciting, she says, adding. “I really like the fact that the labs have a large selection of modern kitchen equipment that is accessible to FNH students. It allows us to transfer the theory we learn in class to the practical setting.”
Other users of Vij’s Kitchen include UBC Continuing Studies, which offers a series of regional cuisine courses such as Chef Eric’s French cooking classes, and UBC Food Services which gives in-service training to chefs. A student cooking club also convenes twice a month.
“As far as I know, this is the only place on campus where there are group cooking facilities that can be used both for communal cooking and education around food theory and food preparation,” says Chapman.
Vij says his involvement with the culinary lab underscores a longtime connection to UBC. His wife, Meeru Dhalwala, helped to found the annual Joy of Feeding celebration of ethnic home cooking which takes place in June at UBC Farm.
“For years, I’ve been sourcing organic produce and herbs from UBC Farm for my restaurants. I also support UBC’s mandate to educate global citizens and to provide leadership for sustainable, urban farming.”