"I was six months old when I started to travel and I haven't stopped since," Lisa Ray tells me over a conversation at Sula, a Vancouver restaurant on the east side of the city. It's the end of summer and the model and actor has come to town with the intention of enticing British Columbians to voyage in her footsteps to her adopted country and one with a far warmer climate, India.
Ray has managed to turn her passion for travel into a pretty cool gig -- she's the global brand ambassador for Insight Vacations, which has numerous high-end properties in India and elsewhere -- and that's not by accident. Born and raised in Toronto, she has wanted to explore the world for as long as she can remember. With a Polish mother and Indian father, she has plenty of.
"My primary objective right from the time I was a child was to travel, or to collect travel experiences," Ray says. She has accomplished just that, with sojourns and lengthy stays around the world. Her background and interest in India's culture drew her to that country more than two decades ago. Not only did India prove to be a catalyst for her career, it also captured her heart.
"It is a magical place. The people, the food, the culture, and it is such a diverse place. I don't think a lot of people realize how different it is from north to south, east to west," she points out.
At the turn of the century, the Times of India named Ray one of the "10 Most Beautiful Women in the World." She started as a model and transitioned into acting. Her role in "Water," a film by Canadian Deepa Mehta, is a highlight of her achievements on screen. These days, Canadians know her best as the co-host of "Top Chef Canada," a show that ran from 2011-14 and showcased a marvellous array of young culinary talent. Ray co-hosted Seasons 2 and 3 with celebrity chef Mark McEwan, and got acquainted with many of the nation's finer restaurants.
"What's fantastic is the re-emergence of Canadian pride. We're taking pride in our ingredients and our bounty," says Ray, who names Vancouver's Fable -- created by Trevor Bird, a runner-up during Season 2 of Top Chef Canada -- and Vij's among her recommended spots.
While it's India that holds much of her interest, Ray has been able to see much of her homeland, thanks to "Top Chef Canada," and relishes many of the nation's attractions. Her favourite place is the Kootenays in eastern British Columbia. The region includes spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and an arts scene that is considered one of the most eclectic in Canada. Each summer, it also hosts Shambhala, an electronic dance music festival that attracts thousands of revellers from around the world. The Kootenays' most notable city is Nelson, where Ray has a home. She describes it "as a bit artsy and kooky."
When she's not in India, it's a place she revels in inhabiting. Perhaps that's not a surprise, given that Nelson, like many parts of India, can feel isolated and serene. As Ray notes, "You've got all of these creative souls gathering in this beautiful scenic town, which is so pure."