Female Disruptors: Anoop Virk of Basmati & Spice On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Start within. As individuals, we have a significant wealth of knowledge within us. We just need to believe in ourselves, look inward, and can find clarity and answers. The foundation within us is so pivotal to ensure we don’t get lost by others’ opinions and perspectives on this journey. If you know who you are, and believe in yourself, you will be able to navigate the process without getting distracted by external factors. Take the time to know yourself, listen to your gut, and be patient.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anoop Virk.
Anoop Virk is an award-winning nonprofit founder, executive producer, authorized home builder, and restaurateur of Basmati & Spice, a wellness focused food concept that is now available in more than 900 hospitals serving patients and healthcare workers.
Known for her philanthropic initiatives including building a gender equality based school in Africa and reconnecting homeless in Vancouver to their lost loved ones, now at 28 years old, she has dedicated the last decade to successfully creating and executing businesses and purposeful projects, advocating for girls and education.
Through her philanthropic projects, Anoop has connected with some of the most influential movers and shakers around the world — the Royal highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, Ndaba Mandela, Chelsea Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Bono, and Nile Rodgers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Looking back at my journey, I do see a thread that has led me to where I am now. From some of my earliest memories as a child, I felt a deep connection that I was on this earth to serve and really enjoyed helping people, which I feel naturally led me to embody this as my passion. This undoubtedly came from watching my mom, who was a single immigrant mother. I witnessed her start from the bottom — from barely speaking any English, and having no money, or family support, and running away to a women’s shelter with me as an infant, to cleaning people’s home during the day and learning English at night. My mother’s story is one of true resilience in my eyes, as she got her Master’s in Education, became an award winning national best selling cookbook author, and hosted TV shows on Food Network.
I knew the hardships and challenges she overcame would not be the journey for everyone, and I felt a connection to her injustices, and found my purpose to help people in this lifetime — in the areas of homelessness, gender equality, and food insecurity. This led me at the age of 14 years old to cofound a project that helped reconnect over 500 homeless in Vancouver to their lost loved ones, at the age of 18 years old to create a 50% gender equal school in Zambia, Africa, and to now help revolutionize hospital food and patient care menus all across the US. As a teenager, I was named Top 20 under 20, and then a Global Teen Leader for the We Are Family Foundation in New York. My degrees in International Studies focusing on politics/foreign policy, in addition to working along side the most vulnerable communities globally helped me understand the complexities and variables involved in development. At the age of 24 years old I understood the power of storytelling which led me to join TED’s mission of ideas worth spreading as the first female Executive Producer for TEDxVancouver.
Food and especially wellness focused food has been a big part of my life. I think most of us have experienced either ourselves or our loved ones being in the hospital, and often not having healthy food options. I remember thinking, why hasn’t anyone thought of a solution for this? A hospital should be a sanctuary for healthcare, and the food being served should not be an exception.
My mom and I have always been business partners since I was a teenager (from helping her manage her media tours or helping produce her cooking shows). Fast forward, she partnered with Morrison Healthcare, a leading national food and nutrition services provider, serving 7 of the top 20 hospitals and health systems and 3 of the top 10 children’s hospitals. They too believe in our philosophy food is medicine, and we created Basmati & Spice, a wellness focused food concept that is now available in more than 900 hospitals, for patients, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to enjoy.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Hospital food should be delicious and healthy, and that’s what we are doing! Our food concept Basmati & Spice provides wellness focused food in hospitals for doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and patients. Hospitals can be stressful, and if you’re a patient, the food sometimes feels like it can be the only choice or control you have. Instead of having a bland meal, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a healthy and wellness focused meal? Perhaps a lentil and spinach soup? We have doctors and nurses say their diets can be really bad as they are running around all day during long shifts and it’s easier to grab something from the vending machine, but now they have options such as our plant forward bowl filled with chickpeas and roasted cauliflower, or perhaps a butter chicken with yams and mushrooms. The emails we get from the hospital staff saying the healthy meals helped them fuel their day, is very rewarding feedback. Our food itself is plant forward, and also spotlights the healing power of food by both boosting immune health as well as supporting local farmers and regenerative agriculture.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Chilli pepper flakes! This is an ingredient you have to keep your eyes on! Recipes are normally created for smaller portions, say 4–6 servings. When you have to create the same recipe say for a few 100 people, you can mostly multiply most of the ingredients…except the chilli pepper flakes. This seemed common knowledge, but we definitely should have made a warning note in bold letters. Let’s just say, when we arrived to taste the food, it had a kick to it. It’s funny now, but I remember in the moment, the food was going to be served in 30 minutes, and there was no way to start from scratch. I can’t remember what the solution was (probably because I tried to block this memory out ha!), but we just had to smile and nod while everyone was eating and sweating. The lesson learned here is even if something comes second nature in your mind, if it needs to be recreated by someone else besides yourself, go into as much instructional detail as you possibly can, even it seems redundant or over explanatory. Better to be safe than sorry!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’m grateful that my mom is both my mentor and my business partner. I feel like we have this synergy that makes us this dynamic duo, and the fact that we are over 10 years into business together, I wouldn’t have wanted to be on this journey with anyone else.
I’ve been grateful to have wonderful individuals in my path that have helped me. I would also say individuals from my projects have incredibly helped me along in my journey and motivated me to keep going. One of my earliest experiences was with a woman named Sandra, who was not my mentor but left a profound impact on me.
The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is known as one of the poorest neighbourhood with hundreds of homeless people on the streets. In high school, a few students, counsellor, and I, created an idea of helping reconnect families through writing cards to their lost families and loved ones. After spending time volunteering on the streets and homeless shelters, it became evident that hundreds of individuals hadn’t seen their families in 5, 10, 15 years. I remember walking up to an older woman named Sandra on the street, and I helped her write a card to her daughter she hadn’t seen in over 10 years. Much to my surprise, we were able to locate her daughter, who in fact had come down to the streets several times to find her mom but was unsuccessful. But with that card, we brought them together for a mother daughter weekend. This was the first moment I was able to witness how just one person could make a profound difference in someones life. We successfully reconnected over 500 lost loved ones and these stories and heartfelt experiences of the project are instrumental to my journey.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Before any disruption takes place, there needs to be a clear plan in place and an understanding of WHY. Why is the change needed? Just for the sake of it or is it actually going to make the industry better. Is the disruption there to find a solution to a problem?
I think disrupting an industry for the greater good, especially when it’s helping people, is a good disruption. If there is a system that has been running the same way but is creating more challenges, there is room for good disruption. For example, most of us have known or had bad experiences with hospital food. Finding a solution to this traditional structure is a good disruption as it’s helping with peoples health and well being. If there was a hospital that was providing wellness focused food and someone came in and wanted to disrupt it by bringing in unhealthy food or taking away the food altogether, that disruption in the industry would not be so positive.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Start within. As individuals, we have a significant wealth of knowledge within us. We just need to believe in ourselves, look inward, and can find clarity and answers. The foundation within us is so pivotal to ensure we don’t get lost by others’ opinions and perspectives on this journey. If you know who you are, and believe in yourself, you will be able to navigate the process without getting distracted by external factors. Take the time to know yourself, listen to your gut, and be patient.
2. Lead with Compassion, purpose and hope. Just because you are in a position of power or authority doesn’t mean you need to lead with an iron fist. Being authoritative doesn’t equate to power. You can support and encourage people around you by building trust and loyalty, and using collaboration to get to your end goals. You can still be efficient and care about the wellbeing of the ones around you. In times of darkness, hope and light are the answers through.
3. Family First. Family is my everything and has been the biggest motivator in my life that continues to both drive me and ground me.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
The core of my projects and work comes down to service and helping people. I’ve seen how essential and pivotal food is around the world — from my school in Zambia, Africa where we were providing 7,000 meals a month to the most vulnerable children in the community, to now here is the US providing nutritious meals in hospitals to serve patients and hospital staff, especially in a pandemic. Through the pandemic, we have seen how challenging these times have been for healthcare workers, and if we can play a small part in taking care of them, I think we are on the right path. Our food concept Basmati & Spice is now available in more than 900 hospitals, and the focus is to continue and provide as many healthy meals to patients and healthcare workers as we can.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Like many women, from the very earlier stages of my career, all the way up to holding the most senior positions, I have faced discrimination. To create disruption, you need to be able to convince others of why this change is necessary to get the support around you, but I think women still have to work harder to get the respect needed to be taken seriously to lead. I’ve been aware of the challenges I’ve faced have not been there for the men who held the positions before me. As more women are holding higher positions and normalizing women in those roles, I think it is becoming easier, and will continue to do so for the next generations to come.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Eckhart Tolle has been the most influential author I’ve read where his teachings deeply resonate with me. I remember a shift occurred after reading “The Power of Now” and “Stillness Speaks”. We can get really wrapped up in this narrative we have of ourselves where our brains can become so busy in thought it can become overwhelming. If we focus on the here and now, the present moment, there is peace and acceptance.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The Power of Food! Food is medicine. I think it is important to be mindful what we put into our bodies, and there is significant amount of research and data backing the benefits of eating better. If I was to inspire a movement that would help people, it would be to take care of yourself, and one of the ways you can do that is your lifestyle and the food and nutrition you provide yourself and your families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If not us, who? And if not now, when?” — Hillel the Elder
I was introduced to this quote in university from reading about Ronald Reagan using it, and it resonating with me because when thinking about world problems or the problems in our communities, the mindset of waiting for someone else to take action that is more prepared or better equipped to handle the situation can cause a level on inaction as everyone is waiting for a saviour. I think we all have the capabilities to stand up and make a difference. Whether it’s addressing homelessness in our cities, addressing gender equality, or creating change in our hospitals with providing wellness focused food. The time is now!
How can our readers follow you online?
@anoopvirk + anoopvirk.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for the opportunity!