Restaurant Awards 2022: Lifetime Achievement Award

Introducing the 2022 winner of the Lifetime Achievement award: Meeru Dhalwala.

Vij’s has become such an institution in Vancouver that it might be easy to overlook the significant impact it’s had on our city—an impact that reaches back nearly to day one. Back in 2003, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman placed Vij’s “easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world”—and this at a time when Vancouver’s culinary scene wasn’t particularly lauded internationally—and GQ magazine noted that “there’s no more-beloved Indian restaurant in North America.”

And the beautiful food that’s hustled out of each kitchen comes back to Meeru Dhalwala and the team of women chefs she manages. “I realized very early on,” Dhalwala told this magazine back in 2014, “that there was a need for a matching magic in the back if [Vij’s co-founder] Vikram was going to accomplish what he told me the first day I ever met him: that he was going to change every preconceived notion about Indian food in Canada.”

It started with careful interpretations of a few nostalgic curries she loved in childhood—and Vancouverites (literally) ate it up. “Modern Indian made with French techniques, local ingredients, and a dash of whimsy,” wrote Globe and Mail reviewer Alexandra Gill. The two foundational restaurants in the Vij’s empire—the aforementioned Vij’s and My Shanti in Surrey—have won a collective 23 gold medals over the years, an astonishing feat that, again, comes back to Dhalwala’s tireless commitment to the craft of creating a memorable night out for each and every guest.

Meeru Dhalwala of Vij's
Photo by Tanya Goehring.

“There was once a perception that certain cuisines had to be cheap and cheerful,” said Restaurant Awards judge Joanne Sasvari. “The way she has elevated the perception of what Indian food is—it’s incredible. She brought in local ingredients, the fusion aspect—making it so sophisticated, but never unapproachable. It’s really remarkable.”

And Dhalwala’s energy for feeding others appears to be limitless—whether it’s spearheading food-celebratory events like Joy of Feeding (a food festival and fundraiser she founded to support UBC Farm), or hosting Yes Shef!, an annual dinner that pairs seasoned female chefs and up-and-comerswith the goal, says Dhalwala, “to not only empower women in the industry, but entice those who left to come back.” 

And because juggling multiple restaurants and all these events isn’t quite enough, she also carved out time to launch My Bambiri, a line of organic baby food, earlier this year. 

Chef Andrea Carlson of Burdock and Co recently worked with Dhalwala on both Joy of Feeding and her Yes Shef! initiative, and she commended Dhalwala for how essential she has been to the dining culture in Vancouver. “For many years, Meeru has been a force of nature on the Vancouver dining scene with her iconic restaurant Vij’s—long the benchmark of gracious hospitality and delicious food,” said Carlson.

All of it comes back to her seemingly innate sense of what it means to be a chef, often behind the scenes. Perhaps nothing sums up Dhalwala better than her own words: “This isn’t about food,” she told us back in 2012, when she launched Joy of Feeding. “It’s about generosity.”

Want More Restaurant Award Winners? Read Them All Here