Janet Zuccarini is back with her Top Chef compatriots for another raucous season of our favourite Canadian culinary show. Fresh and full of sage wisdom from her home in LA, Janet’s fired up for the next season, where she returns as a seasoned judge and culinary resident expert.
Top Chef Canada kicks off on April 19th at 10pm EST. We grilled Janet over the ins and outs of filming during a pandemic (panini), her growing restaurant empire, and why women aren’t joining the hospitality industry or staying in it. Hint- if you’re a woman, she’s always hiring.
Libby Roach– How has the last year changed how you operate and can you weigh in on the differences between your LA and Toronto businesses and the differences in how they coped during the lockdowns?
Janet Zuccarini– Things are great, all the restaurants are open for outdoor dining, we can seat for outside dining, the one restaurant I have here in LA (Felix) has a large outdoor space in the back of the restaurant, we’re operating and things are looking pretty good and back to normal. I feel very fortunate to be in LA, Toronto is another story, it breaks my heart in a way. I opened a restaurant here 3 years ago and moved out here for most of the year about 5 years ago. I do keep a home in Toronto and most of my businesses are in Toronto. I’m under construction in downtown LA and another project in Beverly Hills, so lots more on the way.
LR– What was filming Top Chef Canada like in Toronto during the pandemic? As someone who’s had a few appearances in the audience, I know that it adds an element to the competition.
JZ– It was amazing what the production company did to keep us safe, we got a Covid test done every day, everyone masked up and face shields. It was hard on the production team but so easy for us. We’d take off our face shields and start shooting. Everyone distanced. They had it down to a science even though it was pretty early on during the pandemic. It felt very seamless and hyper safe. Challenges were made different to reflect the challenges that we’re in. Even if we might be further along in the pandemic it will feel so timely and of the moment. Things in the industry with cooking and hospitality that we know we’re going to be living with for a long time to come. I think it was clever and very timely what the challenges were very, very appropriate for our times. People are going to find it very relevant, and interesting on so many different levels. We couldn’t have any extras. Of course, we want to have the participation of the audience but you’re really going to see some amazing challenges, it’s very exciting television.
LR– Women in business are often compared to their male counterparts, some of which haven’t fared particularly well throughout this pandemic. What words of advice can you offer women who are looking to advance in their industry?
JZ– Statistically the numbers are shocking. If you take the global numbers women owners and executive chefs own 5% of the global industry. It’s shockingly off-balance. It’s kind of this dichotomy of women-belong-in-the-kitchen but we hardly see any women in commercial kitchens. It’s going in the right direction but we need balance for so many reasons. We need that feminine energy in commercial kitchens and hospitality. We need more women to be interested and applying. Even with casting this show we always strive for balance, but it’s always hardest to find women chefs. It’s going in the right direction but we have such a long way to go. I am looking to hire women specifically. We need balance. My company is made of women leaders. The president of my company is female. My Chief Culture Officer is a woman. But it’s just not common in hospitality. And it’s two-fold now, with the pandemic. Of course, you want to have equal rights, but thinking of the household, it lands on the woman, even if both partners have full-time jobs.
The industry is wide open, we just need more women applying and going to school – I think it’s a wonderful industry for women to be in. We just need to participate more.
Meet the contestants and cast your prediction from Season 9, who do you think will take home the hardware and be crowned our next Top Chef Canada?
All images except above courtesy Janet Zuccarini. Above image of Top Chef Canada talent by Libby Roach.