Peering upon the Dragons’ Den chairs is almost like looking at Canada’s equivalent to the Iron Throne. Each of the five seats belongs to some of Canada’s most successful business moguls (including Jim Treliving, Arlene Dickinson and David Chilton), armed with the bank accounts, connections and real-world experience to change the lives of the everyday entrepreneur. With that knowledge, you can almost physically feel the power radiating from each chair.
It’s no surprise then that Vikram Vij, chef, restaurant giant and one of two new dragons joining the den for Season 9 (alongside Michael Wekerle), was too nervous to sleep the night before his first day, regardless of how much prep work he put in.
“I had studied hard, I had really done my homework, I had done so much other stuff to prepare, but it’s a little bit like child bearing,” Vij says. “This experience was like I had just given birth. I needed to go through the pains and the motions of learning how things are going to happen for me.”
Vij is no virgin to television gigs, serving as a judge on Recipe to Riches, Chopped and Top Chef Canada in the past. But what Dragons’ Den is giving Vij is an opportunity to show viewers that he’s much more than just a chef and restaurateur.
“I want to get away from the stigma of people thinking I’m a food guy only,” Vij says, listing his investments in computer apps as an example of some of his other business ventures. “At the end of the day I’m a businessman. I’m looking for great deals and I’m going to put money where the great deals are.”
What Recipe to Riches did do to help Vij, however, was give him a pre-established connection to Dragons’ Den through fellow Riches judge Arlene Dickinson, a Dragon since Season 2. Although the veteran gave her friend some tips, Dickinson doesn’t seem to have a problem flexing her seniority over Vij when it comes to the Den.
“She kind of said to me very nicely, ‘Just be yourself. Be silly if you have to be, and do what you need to do and just be yourself.’ Which also meant, ‘I will take you and ring you very nicely if I have to because I am the senior person on this show,'” Vij says with a smile.
“Initially a couple of times when I’m making a pitch or asking questions she will look over at me and say, ‘Really? You asked that question? Why would you ask that question?'” he says. “She comes from the experience like you should already know this.”
After filming a handful of pitches, Vij now refers to himself as more of an underdog rather than simply a rookie. It’s something he knows will continue to change as he discovers his individual place within the show’s pre-existing puzzle.
“I find that sometimes the pitches go automatically towards Arlene because they gravitate towards her, but that’s OK” Vij says. “I’m going to make my mark and keep focused at it.”
Dragons’ Den airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.