Tag Archives: Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini judging on the set of Top Chef Canada

Janet Zuccarini on Having Resilience in Her Own Life and on This Season of Top Chef Canada

Restaurateur and Top Chef Canada judge Janet Zuccarini learned all about one of the themes of this season — resilience — from her father at an early age. Giacomo Zuccarini opened Toronto’s Sidewalk Caffè before Janet was even born; a legacy that would shape her outlook on restaurants in more ways than one. “The restaurant was really successful, with lineups out the door,” she says. “And one day, when my father took his first vacation to go back to Italy to visit his mother, his business partner emptied out his bank account and fled to Mexico with all the money, and my father had to shut the restaurant down.”

Although Giacomo would go on to have a long career in the espresso machine importing business, he warned his daughter about the travails of being a restaurateur. When Janet went against his wishes and opened up her first restaurant Cafe Nervosa (later renamed Trattoria Nervosa) in 1996, it caused a rift between them. “My father brought me up telling me almost every day to never go in the restaurant business,” she remembers. “And when I did, it upset my father so much that he did not speak to me for one year. It was horrible. Because it was so traumatic for my father to lose everything at one point, he felt that I did it on purpose, in a way. But we healed.”

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada

Today, Janet’s Gusto 54 restaurant group — named in tribute to year her father first opened Sidewalk Caffè — spans multiple cuisines and cities, including Wall of Chefs judge Nuit Regular’s Pai and Kiin restaurants, Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, Gusto 101 and others in Los Angeles, but she’s never lost sight of those early lessons of adaptability and overcoming adversity. 

Related: Eden Grinshpan’s Baba Ghanoush Recipe

This outlook would serve her well when the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the restaurant landscape. According to a December 2020 survey from industry group Restaurants Canada, eight out of 10 restaurants are either losing money or barely scraping by in today’s climate, and 48 percent of owners of single location restaurants are expecting to close within six months if conditions don’t improve. “It’s been absolutely devastating and has been a decimating experience for anyone with a small business, but the restaurant industry has been hit arguably the hardest during the pandemic,” says Janet. “With this third wave, we spent money that we don’t have to reopen outdoor dining just to be shut down again for the third time. Every time there’s a shutdown on short notice, you furlough all your team members that you just hired and paid to train, and figure out what to do with all of your inventory of food. We just keep getting one blow after the other. “

Viewers will be able to see this shift in the industry reflected in this season of Top Chef Canada, from behind-the-scenes logistics to Quickfire and Elimination Challenges. “The show is going to be very relevant, because not only did we have to shoot the show in such an extra safe way, with everyone on the set being tested every day they were on set, and of course wearing face shields and masks, and sitting separated at the judges’ table,” says Janet. Creating pandemic appropriate challenges was also an issue. “We had to address COVID, and what restaurants are going through and create challenges that represent how we’ve changed our way of relating to food and dining with regards to restaurants,” she says.

Related: Meet the Season 9 Top Chef Canada Competitors

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada with Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

Overall, what Janet hopes the audience takes away from this season is a feeling of looking forward in terms of the restaurant industry. “As a restaurateur, I’ve shifted and adapted from selling groceries to takeout to home meal kits with chef tutorials over Zoom. We’ve opened four restaurants during the pandemic. The ideas have to keep coming, and going, and changing,” she says. “As the year has gone on, we’ve had different needs: people are not traveling, they’re not going to concerts, they’re starved for experiences. So, I have a lot of hope for the future.”

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV. Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Top Chef Canada’s Janet Zuccarini Up for Best New Restaurant Award

Top Chef Canada resident judge and über-successful restaurateur Janet Zuccarini’s L.A. hot spot, Felix Trattoria, is one of five finalists for The James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Award, one of the most important culinary awards in America. Janet partnered with Chef Evan Funke to create a restaurant centered around authentic regional Italian cuisine, warm Italian hospitality and most importantly, exceptional handmade pasta. It’s been a success since it opened in April 2017 garnering accolades like “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater LA,  “#1 Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine, and one of Los Angeles Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2017.


photo credit: Alan Gastelum

Who is Chef Evan Funke?

Chef Evan Funke’s passion is handmade pasta, having studied in Bologna, Italy at the La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. Before opening Felix with Janet Zuccarini, he helmed L.A.’s Bucato, an Italian restaurant (now closed) that also received culinary kudos for its authentic Italian cuisine and handmade pasta. His big culinary break came when he worked for six years for celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his legendary L.A. restaurant, Spago.

Evan Funke will be a guest judge in an upcoming episode of Top Chef Canada, when the competing chefs will have to impress him and Janet, two experts in Italian cuisine, with a quintessential Italian dish. The episode was filmed late last year when this behind-the-scenes photo was taken; Evan is pictured with host Eden Grinshpan, Janet and resident judge Mijune Pak.


L-R: Eden Grinshpan, Evan Funke, Janet Zuccarini and Mijune Pak

Felix Trattoria, a Taste of Italy in L.A.


photo credit: Frank Wonho Lee

Felix Trattoria is located in L.A.’s Venice Beach neighbourhood on Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, a trendy hub in this thriving artistic community.  The dinner menu, written in Italian, features a wide range of antipasti, traditional pizze,  meaty secondi and their famous handmade pastas reflecting the different regions of Italy. Chef Evan Funke sources his ingredients from family farms throughout California.

Here’s a mouthwatering shot of the restaurant’s handmade pasta with a meaty ragu:

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A post shared by FELIX Trattoria (@felixlosangeles) on

And here’s a glimpse of the gorgeous handmade pasta produced in-house:

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2018 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant

The long list of 28 original nominees for this highly coveted award was first announced back in February and in March, the list was culled down to just five finalists, with Felix Trattoria making the final cut. This was Janet Zuccarini’s response when she found out her restaurant made it:

Winners will be announced on May 7, 2018 at The James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago.

Janet Zuccarini on Top Chef Canada


The judges for this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode: Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, guest Ruth Reichl, Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini

This is Janet Zuccarini‘s second season as a resident judge on Top Chef Canada; she joined the series in its fifth season, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars.  Catch her next Sunday (April 29) at 10 E/P when she showcases her excellence as a restaurateur when she judges the chefs’ restaurant concepts and menus in this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode. The episode was filmed at Gusto 101, Janet’s acclaimed Italian restaurant in Toronto.

Related: New Season of Top Chef Canada Introduces Next Generation of Canada’s Culinary Elite

New Season of Top Chef Canada Introduces Next Generation of Canada’s Culinary Elite

Top Chef Canada, the country’s most prestigious culinary competition returns April 8 for an exciting new season! Eleven extraordinarily talented, up-and-coming chefs from across Canada are vying for the illustrious title and the opportunity to be catapulted into Canadian culinary stardom alongside previous winners Dale Mackay, Carl Heinrich, Matt Stowe, René Rodriguez and Nicole Gomes.

The new lineup of next generation chefs competing this season on Top Chef Canada are (from L-R in above image):

Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Eden Grinshpan returns as host, guiding the chefs through their challenges and helping to deliberate at judges’ table. Culinary legend Chef Mark McEwan is back as head judge along with the esteemed resident judges, renowned food journalist and critic Chris Nuttall-Smith, food blogger Mijune Pak and powerhouse restaurateur Janet Zuccarini.

“You really felt a fresh new energy walking into this new season and meeting all the chefs,” Eden revealed.  “There was an overwhelming sense of excitement. Everyone brought their A-Game. Everyone really wanted to win. I found there were so many new, creative ways these chefs were bringing their food to the table.”

Head Judge Chef Mark McEwan has been with Top Chef Canada since it launched in 2011. Looking back on the past seasons, he shares, “Every year’s been good but every year’s gotten better. This year the chefs are hitting a new level. This was our best season yet for food.” He elaborates,  “The young chefs show a great sign of maturity and really excellent dexterity and ability to make flavours happen. Some real, great surprises!”

Not only will the chefs have to impress judges’ panel, they’ll also need to win over the palates of celebrated guest judges featured throughout the series. This season, guest judges include chef-owners of some of Toronto’s best-known restaurants, such as Lynn Crawford (Ruby Watchco), Susur Lee (Fring’s, Lee), Rob Gentile (Buca, Bar Buca) and Alexandra Feswick (Drake Devonshire). Top Chef Canada alum returning as guest judges include Steve Gonzales of Baro, Dustin Gallagher of 416 Snack Bar as well as Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner, Nicole Gomes of Calgary’s Cluck ‘N’ Cleaver. Additionally, Evan Funke, L.A.-based chef and co-owner (with Janet Zuccarini) of the acclaimed Felix restaurant, and Danny Bowien, chef-owner of New York’s Mission Chinese Food join as guest judges.

Each week during the season, topchefcanada.ca will be your destination for everything Top Chef Canada! You’ll find full episodes online, exclusive exit interviews with each of the departing chefs, behind-the-scenes secrets from life on set, chef cooking tips, episode recaps and our must-see interview with the winner.

Top Chef Canada Returns With All-Stars Season

Food Network Canada has been cooking up a delicious secret and it’s time to share it with all of you. Top Chef Canada is coming back in an all new way. Canada’s most prestigious and high stakes culinary competition returns Sunday, April 2 at 10 ET/PT with an All-Stars season for its fifth installment.

Mark McEwan, revered chef and restaurateur, is back as head judge and is reacquainted with 12 chefs from past seasons, who return to see if they can win the previously elusive Top Chef Canada title.

Mark is excited for what fans will see in Top Chef Canada: All-Stars.

“Top flight ingredients, driven and proven chefs, full on challenges and the best food I’ve seen in five seasons, epic!”

If this doesn’t make your stomach rumble with excitement, you might want to check if you have a pulse!

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Judges
From Left: Eden Grinshpan, Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, Janet Zuccarini, Chris Nuttall-Smith.

Mark McEwan is joined by a new cast of refined palates including resident judges Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak, Janet Zuccarini and host Eden Grinshpan. Chris Nuttall-Smith previously worked under the cloak of anonymity as the restaurant critic for The Globe and Mail. On Top Chef Canada, comes face-to-face with the chefs he’s critiquing.

“When we [judges] lost our heads about how incredible a dish was, it was beautiful to be able to say that in the moment to the chef’s face and to see them light up.”

Chris heaped praise on his fellow judges, noting that “every single one of them really is at the top of their game.”

Mijune Pak is the Vancouver food writer behind the award-winning food blog and restaurant guide, Follow Me Foodie. When asked about the reboot of Top Chef Canada, Mijune didn’t hold back.

“It’s the crème de la crème of cooking competitions on television,” she says. From the chef challenges to the guest judges, “it’s all about the food.”

Janet Zuccarini, is a powerhouse restaurateur, owning Toronto hot spots Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101 and Pai Northern Thai Kitchen, with more restaurants in the works. Janet says that one of the best parts of being on the series was how the judges, from various backgrounds and with different opinions, worked together as a panel.

Eden Grinshpan, a judge on Chopped Canada, steps into the role of Top Chef Canada host, guiding the chefs through their challenges and weighing in on their fate at judges’ table. She brings with her Le Cordon Bleu chef credentials and a disarming personality. Eden loves watching the chefs evolve and grow throughout the competition and seeing how the competition affects them. “Some people rise to the occasion and some fall under it.”

And who are the chefs that Eden is talking about? We’ll be revealing the 12 chefs to compete on Top Chef Canada: All-Stars soon, so keep checking back. For full bios on each of the judges and host, click here.

Each week during the season, Foodnetwork.ca will be your destination for more Top Chef Canada as we’ll be posting exclusive content including deleted scenes, episode recaps, culinary behind-the-scenes articles, and interviews with the competing chefs. Plus, we’ll be giving away Top Chef Canada prizes.