Meeru was born in India and moved to Washington, DC at a young age with her parents. In DC, she worked with various international non-profit organizations on human rights and economic development projects. She received her MSc degree in Development Studies from Bath University in England. Meeru moved to Vancouver in February 1995 and has since been cooking and running the kitchens at Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants. Vij’s has been hailed by the New York Times as “easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world.
Meeru works closely with her all-female kitchen staff, all of whom hail from villages in the Punjab, India, to experiment with various cooking techniques and spice combinations for all of the recipes at the two restaurants.
Meeru also penned the three Vij’s cookbooks: Vij’s—Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, which won Cuisine Canada’s 2007 Gold Award for Best Cookbook, and Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey, which placed second in the Best Indian Cuisine Book in the World category at the 2010 Gourmand International World Cookbook Awards in Paris, France. The third cookbook, Vij’s Indian: Cherished Recipes, with Penguin-Random House was released in October 2016.
What ignited the spark in you to live a life with zest?
Growing up in the Washington DC area and living in two distinct worlds—my home world, which was with my Indian parents and the Indian culture, combined with my outside world of American school/friends/music/movies/TV—I realized that it would be up to me one day to turn the two into a ONE. When I was in grade 5, I learned that we became legal and independent “adults” at 18 and this meant to me that I would be in control of my own life. Then in grade 7, I was introduced to Stevie Nicks via radio and TV. I was mesmerized by her combination of her personal with her professional through her beauty, sexuality, and strength on stage. While I didn’t want to be Stevie Nicks (for one thing I’m almost flat footed and can’t wear high heel boots) I loved knowing that I had the freedom to be my equivalent of Stevie Nicks.
How do you define success?
I define success with being brave and engaged with whatever or whomever I commit to and how content and proud my project(s) make me feel. I consider mothering, relationships/friendships, and my career to be lifelong projects. By brave, I mean being afraid to do something, not knowing how to go about doing it, or worrying that it will flop and then figuring out how to overcome it in a why that suits who I am. In my restaurant/chef/food career, I get my braveness and inspiration by reading, traveling and engaging with as many people as possible, and to connect the bigger world to my own one person world.
How do you build successful friendships?
At some point after meeting and getting to know someone, I ask myself two things: does this person genuinely interest me and can I be unfiltered around this person and vice verse. It’s a cliché to say we need to build comfortable communication, but my friendships are based on a balance of being able to talk about anything as well as knowing emotional boundaries (or lack of with some of my friends!) and reading body language. I don’t believe you need to share the same politics, lifestyle or even morals to be true friends with someone. At some point you get into a comfortable and un-feather-ruffling groove with a person and you just simply like and trust them.
What has been your most satisfying moment in life?
Dropping off my older daughter at McGill university in Montreal for the first time and seeing that excited, afraid and yet brave look of an 18-year-old when she said bye to me was amazing. I was so nervous about leaving her that I forgot to pee all afternoon, and I had a long journey ahead of me. When it was time to hug/kiss her goodbye, I said: “Oh, Nanaki, I have to pee”. Going through her own emotions, Nanaki responded: “No mom, you need to say bye to me now and then go to Starbucks to pee.” While laughing and crying, I realized that I could honestly tell her that “I gave her my very best.”
What makes you happiest or angriest?
I am happiest when I’m in a flow of equal engagement with another or others, by which I mean there is no emotional hierarchy between us. Even though at Vij’s/Rangoli I am the employer who is engaging with her employees, when we are talking about menu planning, who needs vacation time or why food costing is so high this month, our energy and respect is that of equal human beings on this earth. And nothing makes me angrier than someone who is in the position of employer/manager or position of authority and getting an egotistical, power kick out of it, and using that “look at me, I’ve arrived” tone they think no one else notices. Enjoying any form of power to make others feel less than you or fear you is misuse and doesn’t make our world flow smoothly—whether you are a high school teacher, head of a business/organization, elected politician or a writer/critic.
WHAT IS MEERU DHALWALA PASSIONATE ABOUT?
One of Meeru’s passions is a community project called “Joy of Feeding.” An annual international food fair that is held every summer in Vancouver. Joy of Feeding features 15 – 16 home cooks of various ethnic backgrounds and professions showcasing their family favourite comfort foods. This event is held at UBC Farm and is also a fundraiser for the farm. The vision of this event is to connect the 3 main points of food and cooking: culture, personal health, and the environment. In addition to the focus on home cooked meals from around the world, most of the food is sourced locally and/or organically. Meeru’s bigger vision is to have a worldwide Joy of Feeding day where various communities throughout the world gather together to feature and share their home-cooked meals.