Renowned Canadian Chef Teaches Prostate Cancer Patients How To Cook Nutritious Meals
Social Awareness Mediaplanet sat down with culinary kingpin, Vikram Vij, to find out how he combined his love for food with his zest for life to empower prostate cancer patients with the knowledge to make healthier nutritional decisions.
Mediaplanet In May you led a cooking class for prostate cancer patients and their partners. Tell us more about what inspired you to do this.
Vikram Vij My father has recently gone through this journey, and along with the rest of our family, he is a strong advocate for using healthy ingredients to cope with, and in some cases cure, a variety of ailments and diseases. So many spices used in Indian cooking have healing properties — turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and cumin. Many people think you eat hot spices to deal with a cold or flu, however there are many other ways to treat different conditions with certain spices that have medicinal values.
“I wanted to help anyone going through this journey to enjoy their life and to enjoy their food.”
MP What were you hoping to accomplish by leading these cooking classes?
VV When I was asked to participate I said “yes” because I wanted to help anyone going through this journey to enjoy their life and to enjoy their food — those two things go hand in hand for me. As well as having an opportunity to meet these survivors and share some great information about the healing properties of Indian spices, I wanted them to be able to cook a really delicious meal that we’ve been enjoying for generations in my own family.
MP How has your outlook on life been influenced by prostate cancer?
VV Seeing as my father has recently gone through prostate cancer treatment, it’s been a personal journey. As a man, and now a son of a prostate cancer survivor, I want to ensure my health for as long as I can. For me, that includes living well and eating well.
"You need fresh ingredients to keep every part of your body regenerating and staying healthy and, on top of that, we are supporting our local farmers, store owners, and businesses. As a local business owner myself, I always want to encourage that!"
MP One of the many challenges facing cancer survivors is ensuring they are eating nutritious meals. What are some tips to help encourage healthy eating?
VV I am always an advocate of buying and eating local — it’s what we practise in our restaurants and it’s what we do for our frozen foods as well. If you buy and eat local, then you should be ensuring freshness, and that’s what feeds our cells, our brains, and our lives. You need fresh ingredients to keep every part of your body regenerating and staying healthy and, on top of that, we are supporting our local farmers, store owners, and businesses. As a local business owner myself, I always want to encourage that!
MP What foods do you advocate for when cooking for prostate cancer patients?
VV We discussed alternative ingredients with the class, because some patients can’t manage cream, salt, and dairy — so lowering the amount of salt and using yogourt instead of cream is what we did with the chicken curry recipe that day. Also, Indian cooking is often vegetarian. That’s always an option — instead of adding meat to your masala or sauce, just use zucchini, red peppers, eggplant, mushrooms or really anything that’s in season.
MP What is next for Vikram Vij?
VV Right now, I’m busy preparing for the opening of the new Vij’s restaurant on Cambie Street in Vancouver. Once that’s done, we will be working on a new concept for the old location, where you’ll be able to book the space for private functions – something we’ve never done before. I’ve also been preparing several months’ worth of food for The Longest Swim, with swimmer Ben Lecomte. He’ll be swimming from Tokyo to San Francisco this winter, to draw attention to the state of the world’s oceans. I’ve put together a lot of food that’s high in protein and carbohydrates, which he’ll be eating during his six months crossing the Pacific.
Vij Family’s Chicken Curry
Vikram Vij & Meeru Dhalwala
½ cup canola oil
2 cups finely chopped onions (about 2 large onions)
3 inch stick of cinnamon
3 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped ginger
2 cups chopped tomatoes (about 2 large tomatoes)
1 tbsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
3 lbs chicken thighs, bone in
1 cup sour cream, stirred
2 cups water
½ cup chopped cilantro (including stems)
Note: Some patients are unable to manage cream, dairy or salt. If this is applies to you, use plain yogourt instead of sour cream and cut back the amount of salt, by seasoning to taste.
- In a large pan, heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute. Add onions and cinnamon, and sauté for another 4 minutes. Add ginger, tomatoes, salt, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala and cayenne. Cook this masala for 5 minutes, or until the oil separates from the masala.
- Remove and discard skin from the chicken thighs. Wash thighs and add to the masala. Stir well. Cook chicken thighs for 10 minutes, until the chicken looks cooked on the outside. Add sour cream and water and stir well. Increase the heat to medium-high. When curry starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, until chicken is completely cooked. Poke the thighs with a knife. If the meat is still pink, cook for 5 more minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Cool curry for at least half an hour.
- Transfer cooled chicken to a mixing bowl. Wearing latex gloves, peel chicken meat off the bones. Discard bones and stir chicken back into the curry. Just before serving, heat curry on medium heat until it starts to boil lightly. Stir in cilantro. Serve with naan or rice.
Vikram's Recommendation: Try pairing chicken curry with a Spanish Tempranillo with good fruit and balanced tannins.