Vij's restaurateurs cook up dinner with a side of energy savings

By Timothy Yu

For 16 years, on a quiet street off of Granville, Meeru Dhalwala and her husband Vikram Vij have been making an ever growing and indelible mark on Vancouver's culinary scene.

The legendary Vij's restaurant has won accolades and admiration for its fine dining Indian cuisine, and the more casual fare of Vij's Rangoli has gone over extremely well with Vancouver's foodies and has ensured that the restaurant is always packed. As the person responsible for the bulk of the recipes and the running of the kitchens, Dhalwala certainly has earned her share of Vij's success.

However, success has not left her resting on her laurels. In fact, she and Vij are already deep into two new enterprises: the launch of their new cookbook and the planning of what is going to be the new flagship location for Vij's on Cambie and 16th.

Sustainability on the menu

The new restaurant is still very much in the design and planning stages, but Dhalwala is determined to make this new outlet a dream list of sustainability. She laughs when she talks about some of the ideas that didn't make the cut.

"We're going to have a green roof, so we thought it would be a great idea to keep a couple of goats up there," she says. "Apparently the city didn't see it as such a great idea."

Although there won't be any goats on the roof of the new Vij's, the plan is to have a green roof that grows herbs such as cilantro and mint. There is still much to be planned and finalized, but without a doubt the final product will be a showcase of Dhalwala's passion for environmental and energy consciousness.

Local ingredients rule

Dhalwala's dedication to sustainability is so strong that it often results in decisions that seem counterintuitive to profitability: she chooses to cook with free range, organic, SPCA certified eggs which are far more expensive. Despite demand, Dhalwala refuses to serve environmentally threatened or endangered seafood.

On the Vij's menu, 90-95% of the ingredients are local, and whenever possible, organic; this is once again more costly to the restaurant's bottom-line. Yet, the irony is that these un-business like decisions are the backbone to Dhalwala and Vij's success. It's the care that is evident in their decisions that is also evident in their marvelous food. And that is why people keep coming back.

Lessons from India

Although she has been a Team Power Smart leader for years, Dhalwala is always trying new ways to save energy and reduce the environmental impact of her restaurants. Dhalwala, who grew up in the United States, says that she has learned a lot from Vij and from her talented staff who operate the kitchens of both restaurants.

Vij and the staff all grew up in India and so have a very different attitude towards the things that Dhalwala says most of us North Americans take for granted. Electricity and water are very precious in India. Unlike here, the supply is not plentiful; it is scarce, and sometimes nonexistent.

For those who understand what it means to not have running water, the idea of leaving unnecessary lights on or wasting hot water is unthinkable. These are people who understand the necessity of conservation. In fact, it is so ingrained in the culture at Vij's that every leftover cup of water from a guest's table is used to water the restaurants' plants rather than poured down the drain.

Pressure cooker saves

Beyond saving cups of leftover water, Dhalwala also has implemented a number of energy saving tools in her restaurant's kitchens, one of which is the pressure cooker. Often overlooked, a pressure cooker has the amazing capacity to cook things that would normally need 2-3 hours on a stove in 10-15 minutes.

Dhalwala is adamant that almost any recipe can be adapted to utilize a pressure cooker, and this is something that is a major part of the couple's new cookbook. The book, entitled Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey, is an attempt to reignite people's desire to cook at home and banish the trepidation many feel about cooking.

The idea is to feel good about cooking in all respects. For those who are new to Indian cooking, Vij's at Home is the perfect way to learn some of the basics of Indian cuisine. For instance, Dhalwala discusses different types of Masala, which literally means spice mixture, and the power these spice combinations can have.

In addition to great recipes, the book encourages environmental awareness in cooking by putting emphasis on sustainable meats like goat, local and organic produce, and pressure cookers. Most importantly though, Vij's at Home gives you the chance to bring a little taste of Dhalwala and Vij's tantalizing cuisine into your own kitchen.

Join Team Power Smart and you'll be eligible to enter our August contest, which features a grand prize of cooking alongside Meeru at the Vancouver Home and Design Show, plus a copy of Vij's at Home.

Timothy Yu is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and contributor.

Source: BC Hydro News