Meeru Dhalwala: The woman behind our favorite menus

There’s no doubt about it, Vancouver’s popular Vij’s and Rangoli are two of the most celebrated places to eat in the city. Ever since we last interviewed Vikram Vij to chat about his home cooking style, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Vij’s at Home: Relax Honey, which hit the shelves this Fall.  Co-authored with his wife, Meeru Dhalwala, their second book celebrates the meals this celebrity couple enjoys at home as family.  Here we sit down with Meeru, otherwise known as the woman behind the menu, and get an inside look at the life of a busy restauranteur, mom, and self described “best Indian cook in the world!”

BT: Reading through the many mouth-watering recipes in this book, there’s no shortage of imagination or flavor. How did you become a cook and what are some of the biggest influencers that have shaped your style in the kitchen?

MD: I essentially got into the business when I married Vikram. I moved here from Washington in 1995 and while I was waiting for a work permit I took an interest in his restaurant business – cooking, specifically!

BT: And the rest is history!

MD: I’ve found my inspiration comes from being a Heritage Indian. I have a huge attraction to my past, my heritage, and growing up Indian. Nothing turns me on more than closing my eyes and imagining a dish and how it will be created. But for every dish that has appeared on the menu, there are around six that didn’t work out so well!

BT: So, experimenting is key?

MD: Definitely.

BT: What was the inspiration behind the book you co-authored with your husband, Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey?

MD: The book was not meant to showcase anything from our restaurants, but rather we wrote this book to let people in to our lives and to encourage families to cook at home. This book really does celebrate the meals we eat at home. One of my favorite dishes from the book is Chicken, Tomato and Green Bean Curry. (You can find this recipe on our site by clicking here.) Enjoy!

BT: What’s it like being a husband & wife cooking team? How did you decide to run your two restaurants together and divvy up your roles?

MD: We divided our time based on what each did best. Vikram is a great front man. I wanted to work with the kitchen staff- mainly women and moms, who have become a great community for me. I love developing dishes with these women. We’ll take turns imagining what we ate at different ages in our lives, and develop dishes based on our imaginations.

BT: Can you tell us more about how you go about developing a new recipe?

MD: I get ideas from everywhere- from the Congo, from George Orwell, from the New York Times… all over the place! Every dish has an environmental statement to it, and all of this comes into play when I come up with a new menu item.

Once I come up with a recipe, that’s just the beginning. Then we test the dish, spending around a month experimenting. Then another couple of weeks training the cooks how to cook it. All of this happens before the recipe is seen on the menu.

BT: Tell us about how family meals happen at your home.

MD: It all starts in the morning! At breakfast, our typical family meal is home-made granola. Breakfast is a big deal for us. I’m also big on dinners with the girls [Vikram typically works nights].

My recommendation for all working parents is to teach your kids how to hold a knife properly and to give them a role to play in the kitchen. When they hit seven or eight, we taught the girls how to chop and cut and help prep food—onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant—and now, as teens, they do all the prep! I’ll come home from work, give the girls prep instructions and go for a run while they are prepping! Then we’ll all cook together when I get back and sit down to eat together. We’ve been cooking together with the girls from a very early age.

BT: And finally, why ‘Relax Honey’? 

MD: Because that’s what Vikram and I say to each other all the time!  Those are the two words that really do go with cooking, a word of sweetness, and a word of love.

Thanks Meeru! A truly inspiring chat. We’re extending an invitation to our FB community to try Meeru's Chicken, Tomato and Green Bean Curry at home and let us know what you think here. Better yet, take a picture and show us what you’ve made! This week, we’ll be giving away a copy of Vij’s at Home: Relax Honey. Join our conversation for a chance to win!

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