‘Top Chef Canada’ judge Janet Zuccarini on feeding Frances McDormand, Leo DiCaprio

Toronto restaurateur Janet Zuccarini is used to seeing A-list celebrities sashay through the doors of her eateries.

But she says every night at her L.A. hot spot Felix Trattoria, which has a prime spot on one of the city’s trendiest streets and has earned best new restaurant accolades, is like a busy night during the Toronto International Film Festival, “times 100.”

“People ask me who’s been in there and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s been every night so I don’t even know where to begin,’” says Zuccarini, one of the hosts of “Top Chef Canada,” which returns to Food Network Canada on Sunday.

“Leo DiCaprio is a regular. That’s pretty cool.”

Zuccarini admits she was awestruck when Frances McDormand celebrated her best actress Oscar win for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with a party at Felix a couple of nights after the awards show.

A photo on Zuccarini’s Instagram account shows McDormand in the restaurant’s kitchen clutching her Oscar.

“She was like, ‘I’d like to come into your kitchen and I’d like to take a picture, for myself, of me with your dishwashers and my Oscar.’ Very specifically she wanted it with the dishwashers and nobody else,” says Zuccarini, noting the moment tied into the inclusion rider and diversity themes of McDormand’s buzzy acceptance speech.

“She’s awesome, she’s a person of the people. She’s a character and she’s amazing and she’s so much fun.”

After launching several restaurants in Toronto, Zuccarini looked to L.A. and targeted a property on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which GQ magazine called “the coolest block in America” in 2012. She also recruited local star chef Evan Funke to ensure there would be immediate buzz when the Italian restaurant launched.

It went on to top Esquire magazine’s list of the best new restaurants in America last year, and is a best new restaurant finalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards.

“I wasn’t just going to open up a neighbourhood restaurant, it was going to be more of a destination restaurant,” Zuccarini says of planning her Felix launch.

“I needed a triple-A location. I needed a triple-A chef. (With Evan) pretty much everybody knows his name in L.A. There is, for me, not a better pasta maker in North America, who has studied all over Italy with the best masters on the fine art of making pasta by hand. It’s actually a lost art , it’s an absolute dying art.”

Zuccarini says Felix doesn’t have a strong Toronto influence when it comes to its food but the service does reflect her roots, including a “Toronto level of service.”

“I would just say 21 years of experience of operating in Toronto, I brought that to L.A. I brought everything that I do in Toronto to L.A.,” she says.

“L.A. has very good service. For me, it’s slightly more relaxed, and that’s suitable to California. But I brought in more like a New York attitude about service. So I’d call it East Coast and I’d call it Toronto (style). Like, we’re going to take care of you a little bit more urgently.”

After last year’s all-star edition of “Top Chef Canada,” the sixth season of the series will again focus on emerging chefs, with competitors from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Calgary, St. John’s, N.L. and Coquitlam, B.C.

“I really feel like this is the next generation of our superstars,” says Zuccarini. “I think most of them will have names in Canada in our future.”

Just Posted

WATCH: More than 100 protest UN migration pact, carbon tax in Red Deer

Chants of “Trudeau must go” echoed through the streets of downtown Red… Continue reading

Tips to keep crime at bay this Christmas

’Tis the season for joy and celebration, but the Christmas season can… Continue reading

Olympic ski run designer creates upgrades at Canyon Ski Resort

Jeff Ihaksi says free-style and alpine ski venues are Canada Winter Games-worthy

Updated: Collision expert backs version of crash of driver accused of manslaughter

Daniel Newsham accused of manslaughter in fatal 2016 collision

Women use scent to lure wolf-dog that ran away from Calgary airport

EDMONTON — A woman from Alberta is thanking an unconventional strategy for… Continue reading

Suspect in Alberta, Saskatchewan bank robberies to get mental assessment

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A former Winnipeg broadcaster and journalism instructor accused… Continue reading

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says his government hopes to make legal changes… Continue reading

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — There was no winning ticket for the $60 million jackpot… Continue reading

All evacuation orders lifted in deadly California wildfire

PARADISE, Calif. — All evacuation orders have been lifted in Paradise more… Continue reading

All aflutter about our feathered friends

Christmas Bird Count will be held Dec. 23

Baylor ties pervade rape case that sparked uproar

DALLAS — The Texas judge who approved a plea deal allowing a… Continue reading

Champion Red Sox owe nearly $12M in luxury tax

NEW YORK — Boston should be happy to pay this tax bill.… Continue reading

Most Read