Skip to main content

You'd think that by now, with the awards, the accolades and even the celebrity endorsements, Vikram Vij would be immune to stage fright.

Not so on a sunny afternoon in Manhattan's Upper East Side last week, where Mr. Vij, his hands stained a turmeric yellow and his brow wrinkled with sweaty concentration, hunched over a prep station in the subterranean kitchen of Daniel Boulud's eponymous flagship, Daniel.

Mr. Vij was one of a handful of notable Vancouver chefs invited to prepare lunch for the gala reopening of Daniel the following day, and he was already agonizing about the fate of his signature dish: lamb "popsicles" (so named, he says, because he got "tired of telling white people to pick up the bone and eat it") accompanied by a fenugreek cream curry.

Story continues below advertisement

"I'm very nervous," he said, confiding that the night before he had made the fatal mistake of inspecting the guest list, studded as it was with influential food writers and chefs.

"I looked at it and went, 'Oh my God.' I barely slept a wink. Now I'm worried about whether my sauce will separate."

Such is the fearsome reputation of New York food critics, who occasionally seem to prefer feasting on the chef rather than the fare.

But Mr. Boulud, who orchestrated this cross-border culinary exchange to help celebrate his launch of DB Bistro Moderne in Vancouver this fall, shrugged it off with a relaxed grin.

"I'm not afraid of that at all," he said of his decision to showcase the work of Vancouver chefs at Daniel, one of the more highly regarded restaurants in the country. "I've done all sorts of crazy things in my restaurant."

This may rank among the more unusual. For one thing, Daniel is a French restaurant, and the guest chefs he recruited to headline its reopening specialize in Indian (Mr. Vij of Vij's), Japanese (Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo's) and Italian (Pino Posteraro of Cioppino's).

And then there is the motivation. The Vancouver chefs will no doubt benefit from the exposure on such a large stage. But what's in it for Mr. Boulud? He has already earned his stripes - not to mention Michelin stars - and enjoys an international following.

Story continues below advertisement

Why go to such elaborate lengths and expense (some members of the Canadian media were treated to a two-day gastronomic tour of his four restaurants here) to promote what are essentially his newest competitors?

"The first week I went to Vancouver all these chefs were fantastic," Mr. Boulud explained.

"They really sort of welcomed me to town. I felt I could have done a lunch here and announced that I was going to Vancouver. But at the same time I felt if we brought Vancouver to New York it would make a better impact with the press. And we're doing it in a very friendly way."

In an era of grousing, autocratic television chefs, this would seem an understatement. Can anyone imagine Gordon Ramsay, he of the gutter mouth and volcanic temper, flying Mr. Boulud, Mario Batali and David Chang to London for a weekend to mess about in his kitchen?

Mr. Posteraro believes it has something to do with the tight-knit camaraderie of the Vancouver food scene.

"It's more collegial and more vibrant," he said, in between directing the preparation of his lobster medallions. "I come back to Toronto and find it very stagnant. They're too worried about the business. Some of the chefs are much too much prima donnas."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Boulud, meanwhile, compared running a restaurant in New York to driving a Ferrari at 15,000 rpm; in Vancouver, he suggested, "you don't have to push the machine as hard."

He is opening a satellite of DB Bistro Moderne there this fall, in partnership with local restaurateurs David and Manjy Sidoo, and is also taking a stake in their fine-dining restaurant, Lumière. The Sidoos recruited Mr. Boulud this spring after Lumière's former executive chef, Rob Feenie, departed in a bitter dispute.

Mr. Vij, who is good friends with Mr. Sidoo, said most of the chefs in Vancouver welcome Mr. Boulud's arrival - not just for the competition, but because he will train more attention on the city's food culture.

Mr. Vij recalled his first meeting with Mr. Boulud. "Somebody of this stature can be a little 'I know it all' sort of thing. And I'm not naming names. We went out for drinks until five in the morning, and ended up at some friend's restaurant. There was no hierarchy at this time - there were just five drunk guys."

Some of these same drunk guys found themselves at Daniel last Friday, greeting a mix of food celebrities, writers and friends of Mr. Boulud that included writer Bill Buford and chef Jacques Pépin. For a half hour, they mingled in the restaurant's foyer, sampling the sushi of Mr. Tojo, who looked no worse for wear, despite having been cavorting with Mr. Boulud and others until 4 a.m.

"I worked with all the top ... chefs: Jean-Georges, Ming Tsai," he said. "So no problem."

Mr. Posteraro's lobster came off without a hitch, as did the sauce of a visibly relieved Mr. Vij, who finally seemed able to relax. (Mr. Posteraro admitted he had had to calm him down in the kitchen that morning.)

And Thomas Haas, a former pastry chef at Daniel who moved to Vancouver to open his own shop, provided the dessert, which, judging by the dozens of chocolate-smeared fingers, was also a hit.

Mr. Boulud certainly viewed his little experiment as a success, although he acknowledged that in this instance, it wasn't all about the food.

"Is it going to change their lives?" he asked of the visiting chefs. "Or is it going to change mine? Maybe not. But we have fun doing it."

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨