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Celebrating Food Day Canada 2021: One-on-on with Chef Vijay Nair

July 31st marks the celebration of Food Day Canada, founded by Anita Stewart to celebrate the terroir of our country, and shine a light on the food, and food makers that sustain Canada. To recognize this day that commemorates the local talent and ingredients that have made the world richer, we are profiling three Canadian chefs participating in Food Day Canada 2021. Read our intro and first profile on Chef Paul Stewart here.

Previously we sat down with Chef Paul Stewart for a one-on-one and today, we’re chatting with Chef Vijay Nair, Executive Chef, Hospitality Services at the University of Guelph.

Vijay Nair is originally from Kerala, India and after completing culinary school he worked at a variety of hotels in India for three years before joining Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in 1999. Vijay moved to Canada in 2003 and attended George Brown College in the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. After finishing school, Vijay worked at The Metropolitan Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel, and the Royal York Hotel. In 2007, he returned to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as Executive Sous Chef.

In 2010, Vijay joined the University of Guelph’s Hospitality Services. “Our hospitality services have been consistently voted best campus food in Canada for over ten years in a row,” says Vijay. “The University of Guelph is also known as the food university of Canada for its significant contribution to agriculture and food technology impacting all our lives.”

“We run a substantial food operation with 22 locations and food trucks that cater to 4,500 students in residence, 12,000 day students and around 3,500 employees,” furthers Vijay. “In addition, we operate a hectic catering and conference operation. We have six operational kitchens, including two large production facilities.”

One-on-one with Chef Vijay Nair

What is one of your favourite Canadian ingredients to use and why?

Quinoa is definitely at the top of the list for favourite Canadian ingredients. Quinoa is versatile and highly nutritious. It can be cooked in a variety of ways and absorbs flavours well. The University of Guelph also has a connection to the varieties that have been developed and cultivated in Canada.

Do you have a favourite locally-made beverage or food product?

I love Wellington Brewery IPA as much as a Green Table Foods pickle in a wrap. However, there are many more local producers who all deserve credit for the excellent work they do.

What is the dish you’ve created that you are proudest of?

I’ve developed a number of dishes using inspiration from what I grew up eating. My goal has always been to make our guests and customers happy and for our team to feel proud about the food we serve.

I love one-pot dishes. In recent years, I have tried to adapt flavours from around the world using locally-sourced ingredients. I like to experiment with things like millets, amaranth, quinoa or lentils. I cook them with seasonal local ingredients and maybe flavour with tropical elements. I also love trying out flatbreads with various flours and flavourings.

What is “Canadian food” to you?

We are a multicultural society and food is the common currency that unites people across Canada. I believe ‘Canadian food’ represents a mix of cultures and flavours from the Indigenous people to the many ethnicities and nationalities that have settled here.

What makes you proud of the Canadian terroir?

It is immense and varied. There must be countless stories for a lifetime about the land, weather, farms and farmers who bring food to our kitchens and dinner tables. I dream of travelling to every region and learning about the food culture.

Why is it important to participate in Food Day Canada?

Participating in Food Day Canada is to enjoy food and say thanks to the people who bring it to us. Food unites us all, lets us share our culture and learn about others and build relationships.

This Food Day Canada, what are you grateful for?

I am thankful to see the gradual opening up after the lockdowns started last year. I hope this is to stay and our industry can recover from the devastation the pandemic caused. I am also grateful that there is much more awareness and appreciation of foods from all over.

Want to learn more about Food Day Canada? Check out profiles from last year’s celebration or our chef profiles from 2019.

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