Taste Makers & Leaders

Michael Wekerle
Michael Wekerle

Michael Wekerle is a rock star in the world of Canadian finance, known for his shrewd value spotting in the fields of tech, biotech and media. As the founder and Chairman of the merchant bank Difference Capital Financial Inc., he oversees a fund that includes such successful growth companies as Hootsuite, Vision Critical, BuildDirect and Blue Ant Media. He also holds significant real estate assets, including an impressive portfolio of high-tech commercial properties in Waterloo, Ontario, as well as the historic Toronto entertainment venue the El Mocambo. And he is a partner in the Canadian franchise of Wahlburgers—Paul, Donnie and Mark Wahlberg’s Boston-based burger chain.
Michael lives in Toronto and is a doting father to six children. He donates millions of dollars to a wide variety of philanthropic interests, including UHN, CAMH, SickKids and Holland Bloorview, as well as the youth outreach organization Seeds of Hope and the acclaimed Baroque opera company Opera Atelier. Michael is currently featured on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, highlighting his entrepreneurial spirit.

Traci Melchor

Traci is a seasoned entertainment reporter who has interviewed hundreds of stars including Diddy, Denzel Washington, INXS, Mariah Carey, Madonna, John Travolta, Janet Jackson, Paris Hilton, Shakira, and Sheryl Crow. Melchor also spoke one-on-one with Madonna for the TV special Madonna: Confessions.

Melchor began her entertainment career as Host of Rapcity on MuchMusic, before moving to Citytv Toronto as an Entertainment Specialist. In 2000, Melchor relocated to Los Angeles, California where she guest starred on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Lizzie McGuire, and reported from red carpets as the Hollywood Correspondent for Star!. Melchor returned to Canada in 2005 to host MuchMoreMusic. In 2008, Melchor joined CTV’s eTalk, remaining with the program until The Social was launched in 2013. She also regularly contributes to The Marilyn Denis Show, CP24 Breakfast, CTV News and Toronto’s CHUM-FM.

Lisa Ray

Lisa Ray is an Indo-Canadian actress, model, television host, philanthropist and social activist. In 2005 she appeared in the Canadian film Water, which premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2008 she starred alongside Sheetal Sheth in the romance films I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen.

Ray made her Indian cinematic debut in 1994 with the Tamil film Nethaji, alongsideSarath Kumar, in which she appeared in a brief role. In 2001 she appeared in the Bollywood film Kasoor alongside Aftab Shivdasani. In 2002 she acted in the Telugu film Takkari Donga, alongside Mahesh Babu. On 16 November 2010, TLC India announced that it would film a new 5-part series, Oh My Gold, with Ray. It premiered in 2011. The series Oh My Gold was set against the cultural-yet-contemporary backdrop of India. Uncovering the beauty of various cities, Ray played both a host and a travel guide. In 2016, Ray appeared in Ram Gopal Varma’s biographical Veerappan.

Culinary Giants

Brandon Olsen
Brandon Olsen

La Banane Restaurant

Brandon Olsen is a chef, chocolatier and co-owner of Toronto’s Restaurant La Banane, CXBO Chocolates.
Before opening La Banane in January 2017, Brandon spent two decades working under some of the world’s top chefs – including two years with Chef Thomas Keller at his French Laundry and Ad Hoc restaurants. At age 25, Brandon was honored with Thomas Keller Restaurant Group’s “Core Award,” given annually to the TKRG employee that most exemplifies the core values of the company.

After two years in Napa, Brandon returned to Toronto and rose to become chef de cuisine at Toronto’s Black Hoof Restaurant, and later Bar Isabel – two of Toronto’s most celebrated restaurants. During this period he honed skills in butchery, nose-to- tail cooking, charcuterie and Spanish cuisine, but classic French was always his passion. After two fruitful years at Bar Isabel (and helping it win Canada’s Best New Restaurant from EnRoute Magzine) he moved on to carve his own path.
Inspired by his time observing the chocolatiers at the French Laundry, Brandon became a self-taught chocolatier and in October 2015, he opened CXBO together with artist and filmmaker Sarah Keenlyside. Their colourful, geometric, handmade confections were an instant hit, and earned them a 2017 Design Award from Wallpaper Magazine and two Canadian International Chocolate Awards.

A year later, he and Sarah partnered with Toronto restaurant group King Street Food Co. and opened Restaurant La Banane, which was awarded the honour of Canada’s Best New Restaurant of 2017 by Canada’s Best Restaurants Magazine.

La Banane is lively, 88-seat, pop art-filled French restaurant that features Brandon’s playfully reimagined Classics and an extensive raw bar. Favorite dishes at La Banane include Tuna Crudo with Capers and Brown Butter, “Liver and Onions” (chicken liver mousse with braised cipollini onions and hen of the woods mushrooms), Eurobass en Croute with Yuzu Beurre Blanc, and the wildly popular Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg, which is made by CXBO. These abstract, hand-painted dark chocolate eggs are lined with unique flavor combinations (such as ancho chile, coffee and dried apricots) and filled with 67% dark chocolate truffles. Guests are invited to smash the eggs with a gold spoon, which has contributed to their popularity both in the restaurant and on social media. In its first year, the dessert was frequently referred to in the media as the “most instagrammable dessert of 2017.”

Brandon and Sarah’s next project is a 40 seat cocktail and wine bar located above La Banane that will serve smaller bites, but still in the French classic style.

Rob Gentile

At 18, fresh out of culinary school, Rob Gentile landed a job at North 44 working under chef Mark McEwan. “From his time at North 44, I could tell that he was a very inspired and curious chef,” McEwan says of his protégé. In addition to running Buca Osteria & Enoteca—the Italian restaurant he heads in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood—Rob is set to open the seafood-themed Buca Yorkville in the new Four Seasons Residences. 

Victor Barry
Victor Barry

Victor is a born and bred Ontario chef. His work ethic, passed down from his father, has driven him to his position as one of Toronto’s premier chefs. He has honed his culinary skills around the world and has made an indelible mark on Toronto’s restaurant landscape.

As Chef-Owner of Piano Piano Restaurant, Victor is once again forging new ground on the culinary scene. While he remains focused on finding the magic inherent in every single ingredient; he is allowing himself and his guests a chance to slow down and savour experiences that come with great food, great wine, and each other.

Victor’s desire to give his guests a singular culinary experience in Toronto will never change, though the way he does that has. At Piano Piano Restaurant, Victor and his family welcome you to their ideal Italian restaurant, where your hunger is sated and soul is nourished.

piano, piano va lontano – slowly, slowly we go further.

Patrick Kriss

 Patrick Kriss first cooked at Rosedale Golf Club (Toronto) and quickly enrolled in George Brown’s culinary arts program. He soon moved to the renowned Auberge du Pommier (Toronto). With big ambitions, Patrick trained with Chef Daniel Boulud at the Michelin-rated, Daniel (New York), before working at notable restaurants, Régis Marcon and La Maison Troisgros (France), and local hot-spots Acadia and Splendido (Toronto). In 2015, Patrick debuted his first restaurant, alo, bringing meticulous French food and service to the heart of Toronto’s fashion district. Since opening, alo has earned the esteemed designation of Relais & Châteaux (2017), been crowned Canada’s Best Restaurant (2017) by Canada’s 100 Restaurants and has earned the elusive four-star rating by the Globe and Mail. On the heels of this success, Patrick has just opened his second restaurant, aloette.

Grant van Gameren

Grant Van Gameren’s rise towards one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs began shortly after opening The Black Hoof in 2008 where he launched several ambitious and controversial menus, inviting guests from all over the world to revel in a culinary world they either missed or were missing out on. Van Gameren’s plight for continuous advancement directed him away from the Hoof, towards worldly travels, where he was heavily influenced by the food and dining culture of Spain, eventually producing the desire to build the internationally recognized Bar Isabel, proudly expressed as 2013 En Route Magazine’s best new Canadian Restaurant. Hot on the heels of Bar Isabel’s success, Grant hired the budding architect firm Partisans to design one of the worlds most beautifulest bars known as Bar Raval. Raval has won numerous design and best restaurant awards since it started serving day and night tapas in 2015. 2016 saw van Gameren open his third, fourth and fifth establishments, El Rey Mezcal Bar, Prettyugly Cocktail bar and Harry’s Charbroil. Three unique concepts ranging from Mezcal and Mexican in Kensington market to American burger dive bar in the heart of Parkdale.

Known for his rejuvenation of restaurants lost in time, Grant took over Tennessee Tavern, a 60 year old restaurant that had seen numerous owners over the years and transformed it into an Eastern European Tavern serving snitzle, cevapi and cabbage rolls along side some of toronto best mix of brass bands playing hip hop, polka, and gypsy rock.

In 2018, Grant will be launching Victor Dries, his curated event and catering company alongside long time friend and partner Chris Brown redefining the way people think of catered foods. We will also see the official openings of Rosalinda, a vibrant new vegan Mexican eatery in the downtown toronto financial core as well as the long time coming, Quetzal, a dive into indigenous Mexican cuisine with chefs and co-owner team Julio Guajardo & Kate Chomyshyn. Quetzal will be another establishment designed by Partisans Architecture with a menu cooked exclusively over 26 feet of open fire.

Image ©Norman Wong

Chef Elia Herrera
Chef Elia Herrera

Elia Herrera, Executive Chef, Los Colibris. Born in Cordoba, Veracruz-Mexico. From a very young age, Elia was exposed to fascinating world of authentic culinary influences. Growing up, culinary exploration was encouraged in her home, since her grandmother initiated a catering business at the young age of 16th, a pioneer in the industry that reached all levels of clientele from Mexican society, celebrities, Presidents, Ambassadors and Governors of Mexico to the Kings of Spain passing the business through generations, sharing her expertise, knowledge and passion for not only traditional Mexican cuisine but International as well. Elia has followed her roots and has brought the tradition of authentic Mexican cuisine to Canada.
Next steps, her family wholeheartedly supported Elia with her passion to delve into the culinary industry. They enthusiastically supported her in enrolling at The Culinary Institute of Mexico. Elia graduated as an Executive Chef with specialization in Pastry.
Taking bits and pieces from her training abroad, having perfected her craft in countries like Spain, France, Belgium, Italy and Canada, Elia puts a little bit of herself in every dish she creates. She has been fortunate enough to work with some of Barcelona’s top Pastry Chefs, including Jordi Butron, Xano Saguer, Walter Volt, and Ricardo Martinez.
Elia came to Canada in 2003, and immediately put her skills to work. Like any good recipe, success is a product of good ingredients. Passion, dedication and extensive knowledge has led her to where she is today.
She is inspired by her grandmother Luz Del Carmen Dominguez de Herrera and mother Elia Del Carmen Herrera Dominguez as well as Pastry Chef Paco Torre Blanca.

Franco Stalteri

 Franco Stalteri is the founder of Charlie’s Burgers; is a series of private dining events. Each dinner event is hosted by a different high-profile chef and is held in a different location. Charlie’s Burgers has collaborated with chefs recognized by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, The Michelin Guide and Relais & Chateaux, in Canada, England, France and the US. In 2010, it was ranked by Food and Wine Magazine as number 3 on its list of “100 Best New Food and Drink Experiences in the World”.

In 2013 Charlie’s Burgers lunched “The CB Wine Program”, where members receive different wines every month. In June 2017, Charlie’s Burgers launched the Reserve Wine Program, which is a quarterly delivery of library and vintage wines form some of the world’s best wine producers. Each reserve edition is paired with one of Canada’s best chefs to include a culinary element to the wines. Over the past 9 years spectacular wines have been served at Charlie’s Burgers dinners. The focus on wine has been as important as the Chef and their menu. The CB wine team has sourced unique and interesting wines from near and far.”

Vikram Vig
Vikram Vij

Vikram Vij was born in India in 1964 and lived in New Delhi and Bombay until the age of 20, when he went to study, live and work in Austria. While he was there he received his chef certificate from the Salzburg Hotel Management School. Vikram moved to Canada in 1989 to work at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta. Vikram became a certified sommelier from the International Sommelier Guild in 2000, and is passionate about pairing wines with his cuisine.

The Vij’s Group of Companies

Vij’s Restaurant

In September 1994, Vikram opened Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver, BC. In early 1995, a passionate and a creative Meeru Dhalwala joined him, and the two began collaborating on the menu. Over the past 20-plus years, Vij’s Restaurant has become renowned in Vancouver, across Canada and globally as one of the finest Indian dining experiences in the world. In 2003, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman said of Vij’s that it was: “…easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world.” In December 2015, Vij’s moved to a new, larger location on Vancouver’s Cambie Street.


In 2004, Vikram and Meeru opened a second restaurant and market called Vij’s Rangoli. A more casual space, Rangoli caters to a lunchtime crowd, as well as an evening and late night audience with its later opening hours in Vancouver’s South Granville neighbourhood. With a focus on a specially created drinks menu and late night Indian bar snacks, Rangoli is the most recent addition to the area’s growing after-hours community.

My Shanti

In June 2014, Vikram opened his third restaurant, My Shanti, based in South Surrey. The theme of My Shanti is Vikram’s culinary travels and his influences, and it includes flavours and ingredients from all over the world. Within weeks of opening, My Shanti received a nomination from Air Canada’s enRoute Magazine as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants and has since won multiple accolades.

Vij’s At Home

As well as a line of frozen, prepackaged gourmet curries based on popular recipes from Vij’s Restaurant, Vij’s foods are also available as part of his service range sold at BC Place stadium and Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Vij’s hot and takeout foods are also sold as part of the From Our Chefs range at select Loblaw’s City Markets in B.C.

Awards and Accolades

In June 2011, the BC Food Processors Association honoured Vikram with the Rising Star Award. In October 2011, he was awarded The Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Pacific Region’s Hospitality and Tourism category. In April 2015, Vikram was named Chef of the Year in Vancouver Magazine’s prestigious Restaurant Awards. Vij’s Restaurant also received the magazine’s Best Indian Award in 2015; and in 2016, My Shanti won the Gold award in that category. In 2014, My Shanti was named Best New Restaurant by the Globe and Mail. The Surrey Board of Trade named Vikram as Surrey’s Business Person of the Year in 2014, and Drishti Magazine gave Vij’s the Innovation in Gastronomy Award in 2015. Vikram received the Chevrolet Ingenuity Award for exceptional creativity and skill at RBC’s 2015 Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. In 2017 My Shanti was named Best Restaurant in Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley in the 2017 Georgia Straight Golden Plate Awards. In 2016, Vikram was named as a Canada 150 ambassador as part of the celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation.

Television, Books and Media

Vikram was a guest judge on Top Chef Canada in 2011 and 2012 and he was the guest of honour in a 2013 Top Chef Canada episode dedicated to Indian cuisine. That episode also featured the Vij’s At Home packaged foods, which were sampled by the contestants. He was also a judge on the first ever Chopped Canada show, which premiered on Food Network Canada in January 2014 and he appeared weekly on CBC’s Recipe to Riches which began in February of 2014.

October 2014 saw Vikram make his debut as the first Indo-Canadian Dragon on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. He took his place in the Den alongside esteemed entrepreneurs: Jim Treliving, Arlene Dickenson, David Chilton and Michael Wekerle. During Vikram’s time in the Den, he invested in a number of new businesses and continues to work with the entrepreneurs involved.

In March 2013, Vikram hosted the world’s first ever live-streamed cook-along, Cook Live With Vikram Vij. As part of Vikram’s goal, to make Indian cuisine accessible to all, people were encouraged to join him live online and cook a family meal at the same time, taking instruction from an award-winning chef. They were able to Tweet questions and photos as the curry was being prepared. The first cook-along received more than 10,000 hits.

Vikram released his autobiography in spring of 2017, entitled Vij: A Chef’s One Way Ticket to Canada With Indian Spices In His Suitcase. It tells the story of his journey to Canada thanks to his mentor Ivor Petrak, former manager of the Banff Springs Hotel, and the growth of his businesses over the past 30 years.

Vikram is also the co-author of three cookbooks with Meeru Dhalwala: Vij’s: Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine, Vij’s At Home: Relax, Honey and Vij’s Indian: Our Stories, Spice and Cherished Recipes.

Philanthropic Work

Vikram has long been involved with the Chef’s Table Society of British Columbia, Farm Folk City Folk Organization, Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood, UBC Farm fundraisers and the Green Table Society. As well, Vikram and Meeru’s commitment to the work done at UBC resulted in the funding and opening of Vij’s Kitchen, a state-of-the-art culinary learning facility at the University of British Columbia, dedicated to teaching the chefs and nutritionists of the future about ethnic food and cuisine.

In June 2015, Vikram and Meeru received honorary Doctorates of Law from Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and in May 2016, Vikram and Meeru were honoured with Doctorates from the University of British Columbia.


In a world of smoke and mirrors, Soniya gets things done.”

Mark McEwanChef

Soniya continues to surprise me with her discipline and persistent drive.Very intuitive and focused on finding the right opportunity for me. I love the fact that she gets all this accomplished while running in her high heels! Soniya is a true professional & brilliant agent.

Vikram VijChef

Soniya has been a great help in navigating the celebrity chef scene in Canada. She understands the culinary scene and is a great resource to discuss ideas with.

Robin LindenFairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Soniya's enthusiasm, ethic and drive are exactly what I needed in great representation. She has helped nurture and discover new clients such as Dairy Farmers of Canada, Foodland Ontario and Baci Perugina. She literally and figuratively brings food to the table.

Christian PritchardCulinary Adventurist, Emcee, Dude