FOOD

Bayview Post - - Food -

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

CHUBBY’S

“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.”

FELIX L.A.

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

“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

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