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Vikram Vij spices up South Surrey dinner

Dale Maternick, 14, stirs a pot full of coconut curried vegetables as famed Indian chef Vikram Vij looks on. - Sarah Massah photo
Dale Maternick, 14, stirs a pot full of coconut curried vegetables as famed Indian chef Vikram Vij looks on.
— image credit: Sarah Massah photo

It’s not every day that an aspiring chef is able to work alongside a legend like Vikram Vij.

But for 14-year-old Dale Maternick, last Tuesday was no ordinary day. The foodie – along with parents Drew and Debbie, sister Dana and family friends – was treated to a private cooking class and dinner at a South Surrey gourmet shop from the acclaimed Vancouver chef and restaurateur.

“You’re my assistant today, we’re putting you to work,” Vij said, inviting Dale into the kitchen, where sous chef Sital Dale showed him how to gently place chutney atop the mung-bean salad.

The Maternick family – who are big fans of Indian food – bid on the dinner and class at last year’s Nite of Hope, the final event before the White Rock/South Surrey branch of the breast-cancer fundraiser went on an indefinite hiatus.

After nearly a year of organizing the dinner, nothing could stop the family from digging in to Vij’s offerings, not even hours of travel.

“I was in Ottawa for business, then I flew to Edmonton and then drove back to B.C.,” laughed Drew, as he arrived at Kitchen Therapy in Grandview Corners. “I’m here now and ready to eat.”

The smell of garlic, ginger and fragrant spices wafted into the street as guests walked in and were greeted by Vij’s friend, Tracey Valente, dressed in red ornate sari, and her fellow Nite of Hope committee member, Karen Ebenal.

A traditional bindi – red forehead decoration – was placed between the arrivals’ eyebrows, and delicate yellow and purple flower petals sprinkled over their heads.

Over the upbeat Indian-style music, the chef stopped to introduce himself to each, urging them to dig into the food he had prepared, with ingredients provided by the chef and Kitchen Therapy owners Robbin Lich and Brent Bondarenko.

“Welcome, welcome. My name is Vikram Vij. Come and have something to eat,” he said. “There’s only one fish cake left, that means you should have it.”

Guests were treated to dishes that fused local ingredients with Indian techniques, including Vij’s famous chicken curry and cinnamon-scented lamb curry, all paired with local wines, as well as pointers for how to recreate the recipes at home.

“If anyone says they are allergic to curry, they are (BS-ing) you. There are so many different spices in curry – cumin, coriander, cloves,” Vij told his guests. “That’s like saying I don’t like music. There are so many different songs.”

The chef’s larger-than-life personality was the perfect accompaniment to the bold aromas and flavours that filled the guests’ dinner plates.

Vij transitioned from explaining techniques to joking with his audience, all while keeping an eye on the dishes.

The night also served as an introduction to Vij for those who had not attended one of his cooking classes locally at Choices Market. The world-renowned chef plans to open his third restaurant, My Shanti, in Morgan Crossing, on the heels of relocating his production facility for his take-home food products to Surrey in 2011.

“There are so many local ingredients here. Why would you use a canned tomato or a tomato from Mexico, when you can use a fresh and local one, grown right here?” Vij said.

“People think I’ve just decided to start focusing on local, but I always have. I get my chicken from the Fraser Valley and I’m inspired by all the vegetables from Surrey.

“I’m using those local ingredients but with Indian spices and techniques. I’m bridging that gap and showing people what they can do with the ingredients they have.”

 

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