Today, the self-made businesswoman — who started her career working 15-hour days helping bookkeeping and sweeping at Nervosa — is the owner of a 320-person food empire.
“By the end of the year there will be 500 [employees],” reports Zuccarini, currently in the throes of doubling her restaurant portfolio.
Toronto will see the addition of a second Gusto, two Pai spinoffs and a Jamaican joint called Chubby’s, which is set to open this June. This March, Zuccarini’s foray into the American market is slated to open its doors. Felix, her hyper-local Italian spot in the Venice neighbourhood of Los Angeles, is helmed by chef about town Evan Funke.
Between the expansions, spinoffs and openings, Zuccarini somehow found time this year to make her grand return to the small screen as a judge on Top Chef Canada: All Stars, where star chefs from seasons past come together to compete.
“I was a child actress and had a
“We are building a traditional jerk pit, where we are aiming to have the best traditional Jamaican food in Toronto. We will have jerk chicken but also jerk tempeh.”
lot of experience in front of the camera; however, I am not sure that helped me with the show,” says Zuccarini nonchalantly, as if being a child actor was akin to being a Girl Guide.
Before she entered elementary school, Zuccarini had filmed over 40 commercials (including some for Colgate and KFC), a miniseries and a movie.
According to Zuccarini, after “word got out that a four-year-old worked 12 hours a day without complaining,” she got booked a lot. “This was before strict union laws came into effect,” she says with a laugh.
As both a child and as an adult, Zuccarini never sought out fame. As a tot, her mom pushed her in front of the camera. Last year, when Top Chef Canada’s producers were seeking out fresh blood to help reboot the series (now in its fifth season), Zuccarini’s name kept popping up. A slam dunk of a screen test later, Zuccarini was appointed one of the show’s new “I’m working with an extremely talented chef in L.A. named Evan Funke. His specialty is ‘pasta fatta a mano,’ which means ‘pasta made by hand.’ Hyper local and hyper seasonal.”
“Gusto 501 will be located on King Street East in Corktown. We are very close to breaking ground and are slated for a 2018 opening.” resident judges alongside food critic Chris Nuttall-Smith.
Although the camera was familiar for Zuccarini, she found the continuous filming style of reality TV challenging.
“As an actress/actor, you take on characters, whereas on a show like Top Chef, I just had to be an honest version of myself, which, as funny as it sounds, can be more challenging,” she says.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the show, though, was Zuccarini shedding her personal ties to some of the contestants, as she had to judge them based on their most recent dishes.
“As judges, we could never look back at past performance, which made it cutthroat,” Zuccarini says.
But as any Top Chef fan knows, you might have the cooking chops, but all it takes is one kitchen mishap to get you booted.
Top Chef Canada: All Stars debuts on Food Network Canada, April 2 at 10 p.m.
JANET ON HER UPCOMING RESTAURANTS
Janet Zuccarini (second from right) is behind some of Toronto’s biggest restaurants