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Vikram Vij started his culinary career in Canada at the Banff Springs Hotel and he recently returned to the property to debut signature dishes from his Vancouver restaurants. (Photo courtesy of the Banff Springs Hotel)
Story by Jody Robbins
BANFF, ALBERTA — It’s late afternoon in the Rockies and the sun streaming in from the cathedral-shaped windows of The Fairmont Banff Springs casts a regal air. Canada’s reigning culinary king, Vikram Vij, is putting the finishing touches on his famed chicken curry. With abandon, he adds a dash of crushed chilies, a sprinkling of ginger and a healthy dollop of sour cream. It’s all coming together nicely, but the court is anxious, collectively salivating in anticipation of his mouthwatering dish.
“Guess how great I feel right now?” asks Vij as he hands out fragrant bowls of curry to the enthusiastic crowd. “This hotel is like your first girlfriend, the one you had sex with, but never wanted to stay with forever. Yet, here I am 23 years later and we’re back in a relationship.”
Yes, the Vancouver celebrity chef and restaurateur is just as vibrant as his trademark curries. This is good news for guests at the castle in the Rockies, since he’s teamed with the Fairmont Banff Springs executive chef J.W. Foster and regional vice-president David Roberts to launch Indian Summer, a savoury seasonal restaurant inside the palace walls.
Few people know it was a former Banff Springs general manager who convinced a young Vij to move to Canada over two decades ago. Vij spent three years climbing the culinary ladder at the Banff Springs before moving to Vancouver.
“I remember when I first arrived, standing here looking outside the hotel and I’m like, holy shit! This is so incredibly beautiful. It’s magical,” he says. Vij recently returned to the Fairmont property to share a little magic of his own for the launch of Indian Summer.
Located in Upper Rundle Lounge, Indian Summer promises to spice up any trip to the Rockies. Could there be anything better than soaking up rich Indian cuisine with freshly made naan bread, while taking in majestic views of the Fairholme Mountain Range in Banff National Park? Most guests don’t think so. “I’m eating one of my favourite curries in one of the most beautiful places in the world and my mind is blown. I feel like I should be eating Arctic char,” confesses Linda Garson, editor-in-chief ofCulinaire.
Though you won’t find Arctic char, fish is certainly on the menu, in the form of a tilapia, coconut and curry leaf South Indian fish curry. Foster and Vij have put together an authentic taste of regional Indian cuisine using local ingredients and rich spices from the East.
Guests can expect to find two of Vij’s own recipes on the menu at this summer restaurant. Currently, it’s a spice-inflected but not overly hot chicken curry and boneless goat curry with cassava root. While both are fantastic, it’s the goat curry that really sings. The depth of flavour in this meaty dish is spot on. Smoky and stewed in a rich, tomato base, the heat gently builds as the free-range meat melts in your mouth.
Adding to the experience is the presence of the curry cart that rolls up table-side dispensing homemade chutneys and pickles to accompany your meal. Choose between mango, mint and tamarind chutneys, in addition to pickled mangoes and palate-calming raita, a yogurt-based condiment.
As you’d expect from a century-old hotel brimming with 14 in-house restaurants and Canada’s largest professional kitchen, there’s more than one culinary story being told at any given time. Steeped in history, the grand opening of 1888 Chop House, takes the Springs back to its roots.
Boasting wild game and Flintstone-esque cuts of prime Alberta beef, this authentic chop house gives tourists a true taste of Rocky Mountain cuisine. “It’s about celebrating Alberta: the farmers, ranchers, all the producers, so we can showcase their products in the purest way in this castle in the mountains,” Foster says.
Got a group? Go for the dry-aged tomahawk, a 40-ounce ribeye enjoyed by the likes of boy band OneRepublic, who recently chowed down on this mammoth beast. Those hankering for lighter fare do well with wagyu tenderloin, especially if topped with caramelized onion foie gras. Stand-out sides include charred wild mushrooms and a potato gnocchi topped with arugula, lemon and chili that would make any Nonna swoon.