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Woman of the Week: Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini is the CEO and owner of Gusto 54, a global restaurant group that encompasses a number of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101, PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, and Gusto 54’s Catering and Commissary Kitchen, among many others. She describes her role in the company as “the visionary”, responsible for finding locations, managing real estate, determining the concept, and assembling teams for each restaurant.

Zuccarini has an intense passion for international cuisine, with a specialization in Italian foods. She is the first Canadian woman to become an AVPN-certified Pizzaiola and was featured as a resident judge in Top Chef Canada’s fifth and sixth season. While her responsibilities now are more business-related, she started in this industry because of her love of food — both cooking and eating it.

Zuccarini has received the RBC Woman of Influence Award in Entrepreneurship and the 2017 Pinnacle Award for Independent Restaurateur of the Year. One of her restaurants is currently under review for consideration as one of Canada’s 100 Best New Restaurants of 2018. Here is what she had to say to Women’s Post in an email conversation during her travels.

Question: You are from Toronto, but you moved away for schooling, why?

Answer: I have a passion for traveling, which began at age 19 when I traveled to Europe on a one-year trip. I spent a few months in Italy on that trip and decided at that time that I needed to find a way to stay in Italy and experience living in that culture, so I found an American University in Rome and completed my undergrad there. When my four years was up and I completed my degree, I felt strongly that I needed to spend more time there, so I searched for another post-grad opportunity. I then found an MBA program at Boston University, which had a campus for a few years in Rome, and stayed in the city for another four years.

Did you always want to be a restauranteur? 

It all started with my father, who loved Italian food and was an incredible cook. We ate very well at home; always whole foods cooked from scratch. Living in Italy for eight years and being a student, I had to learn to really stretch a dollar (or back then it was the Italian lira), so I began cooking for myself and my friends. During that time, my friends would suggest that I open up my own restaurant, but I never thought that would become a reality. After I finished all of my university work, I traveled back home to Toronto for a friend’s wedding and went to Yorkville to get my hair done at Salon Daniel. I was chatting with a stylist there who told me that the corner of Yorkville and Belair was under construction and was set to become an Italian restaurant. I was intrigued, so I walked over and introduced myself to the guys who were opening it. Shortly afterwards they asked me to be a partner and literally overnight I was in the restaurant business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was marrying my two passions: business and food.

What was the first restaurant you opened? 

I opened Trattoria Nervosa (back then it was known as Cafe Nervosa) in 1996 with two partners, which very quickly turned into only one partner. During that period of transition, I had to thoroughly immerse myself in the business to learn its ins and outs. In the early days, I worked every position; six days a week, 17 hours a day. I learned every aspect of the business, which is incredibly important to creating procedures so that you can step away from being a “technician” and put yourself at the top of your company where you can more efficiently and effectively run it. After the four-year mark, I bought out my partner (thankfully, as it was a soul-destroying partnership) and that’s when my life took this extraordinary turn. The business was stable. I had learned every aspect of it. I successfully bought out a toxic partner, and I really started to run my business instead of letting it run me.

How did Gusto 54 come about?

Three years ago when we decided to consciously transition the company from owning three restaurants in Toronto to becoming a global restaurant group. Gusto 54 was created in honour of my father, who opened up the Sidewalk Caffè at the corner of Yonge and College Street in 1954, which at the time featured the very first espresso machine in Canada, as well as the first wood-burning pizza oven and heated patio. My father was a pioneer and I owe any entrepreneurial spirit that I possess to him.

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen is your latest restaurant to open – how is it doing?

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen opened to Toronto’s King West area in early December and we are busy, which is great considering that we opened our doors during that time of year.

What does it take to run a successful restaurant?

To be successful in the restaurant business you need to deliver on all fronts of the experience, including service, food, location, design and music. You also have to consider what exactly you aim to deliver with your restaurant, as every concept will have different requirements. A destination restaurant will not have the same formula as a restaurant that services a neighbourhood. The restaurant business is arguably the toughest business at which to succeed due in large part to the fact that the margins are so slim. To help mitigate this risk we analyze sales and our numbers every day. All in all, you need to possess a certain level of business acumen, as well as consistently keep your finger on the pulse to deliver what people are looking for in order to truly succeed in this business.

What is the biggest challenge?

This can be a challenging business where you need to keep a very close eye on food and labour costs and keep the operations very tight. Systems, procedures and technology become integral in operating a profitable business that consistently delivers against our mission. Consistency in both food and soulful hospitality can also be a challenge given the number of people we rely on every day to serve over 3,500 customers. This is where training becomes essential in ensuring everyone is set up for success.

How do you make sure the food served is following the newest trends – or even leading the trends?

My job as the visionary is to make sure that my finger is always on the pulse of what’s happening in the world as far as food and industry trends go. I have a passion for dining out and checking out all kinds of restaurants wherever I go in the world.

What advice would you give to a young female business professional with dreams of starting their own empire?

You can do anything if you have grit and don’t let anything stop you.

What’s next for you?

I feel like I’m just getting warmed up in the restaurant business. We’re opening Gusto 501 to Toronto’s Corktown area this year, we are looking to open in New York, and we’re currently working on rolling out two additional concepts.

What do you do to help women?

As a woman operating in a primarily male-dominated industry, supporting and helping to empower women is extremely important to me. Many of the key leadership positions within our company are held by women including chefs, GMs, and our President, Juanita Dickson. In addition to contributing to various local organizations such as Women in Capital Markets, Dr. Roz’s Healing Place, and Dress for Success, I always strive to make time to personally meet with women to provide mentorship or advice.

What do you do when you are not working?

I live in Los Angeles half of the year, so I love taking advantage of the weather there and doing a lot of activities like tennis, hiking and biking. I’m also super passionate about yoga and, whenever possible, I love checking out new restaurants and hosting friends and family at my house for dinner.

I’m currently reading “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” by Timothy Gallwey, as well as “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza.

 

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Toronto eatin’: leftover turkey soup

Let’s be honest — you can only eat leftover Christmas dinner for a few days before it makes you want to throw up. Even a good turkey sandwich only goes so far. Instead, why not put some turkey aside to make something different. A good turkey soup is perfect for lunches or dinners, and excellent on a cold winter day.

The recipe I’m going to share is for a chicken vegetable soup I make on a regular basis. Just swap our turkey for chicken and you are good to go!

Start by sautéing garlic and a chopped onion in a large pot. Add in chopped vegetables of your choice (carrots, mushrooms, celery). Stir for a few minutes. Add canned corn and green beans. Pour in two cups of chicken broth and some pepper and salt to taste. Since the turkey will already be cooked, add it in last. Shred it up before putting it in the soup.

If you want to make it more of a Minestrone soup, you can add a can of tomatoes. Boil for 15-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked.

In a separate pot, cook a cup of rice. When you are ready to serve the soup, warm it up with a few spoonfuls of rice. By cooking the rice separately, you avoid the starchiness of the liquid. You can substitute rice with potatoes or macaroni noodles, but the cooking process should still be the same.

Toronto drinkin’: signature holiday cocktails

I went to a holiday party the other weekend and the hosts served a signature cocktail.

A signature cocktail adds a lot of class to a get together, especially when that party is BYOB. It’s a nice touch that shows the host was thinking about their guests. It adds class to a simple party. These signature cocktails are also fun to make and will fill you with pride when friends and family ask for seconds. Here are some simple, easy cocktails you can make for your holiday parties this weekend:

Mulled Wine: Why serve plain old wine when you could serve a holiday delicacy like mulled wine. The beverage warms the soul from the inside out! It’s ten times better than regular sangria. Combine one bottle of red wine, 1/4 cup of brandy, 1/4 cup of honey, one orange, two stars of anise, eight cloves and two cinnamon sticks.

Juniper Champaign: Champaign is nice, but it can sometimes have a bit of a funny aftertaste. Juniper syrup is a lovely addition to any cocktail. Simply mix together juniper berries, orange zest, cardamom, and half a cup of water and half a cup of sugar. Boil and let cool. Add a squirt of juniper syrup and a fresh pine sprig for a festive, celebratory beverage.

Cranberry Mule: This twist on a classic is perfect for afternoon cocktail. Combine equal parts cranberry juice and vodka. Add ginger beer, lime juice, and some cranberries to garnish. This drink is sweet, but packs a punch.

Orange gin martini: Not every drink has to have cranberry. Try adding some one and a half ounces of blood orange juice, half an ounce of Campari, a dash of vermouth, and one and a half ounces of gin. Mis together in a cocktail shaker with some ice and pour in a martini glass with a sugared rim.

Coconut warmer: Sure, you can serve the typical hot chocolate or eggnog, but why not create a new concoction? Mix an even amount of coconut and whole milk together with two to three teaspoons of hot chocolate powder (or homemade chocolate syrup). Heat up and stir in one and a half ounces of rum. Top with coconut whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

What are your favourite signature cocktails? Let us know in the comments below! 

Toronto eatin’: easy cauliflower ‘fried rice’

If you feel like you’ve been eating badly this holiday season and you want to ‘lighten up’ your dinner menu, there are many great alternatives to dishes that contain rice. In some homes, rice is a staple and in others it is avoided at all costs. Cauliflower fried rice will make you feel less guilty, but still fill you up. Personally, mashed cauliflower or cauliflower mac and cheese is a favourite of mine to make every time I want to switch it up and reduce my carb intake. Cauliflower fried rice will be another one to add to the list.

Ingredients:

  • One large cauliflower head
  • 2 large eggs
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 3 cloves of garlic- minced
  • 1 tsp fresh hopped ginger
  • 5 table spoons soya sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup frozen peas and carrots ( or broccoli mix)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 small onion diced
  • 1tsp salt (or more if needed)

Directions:

  1. You can choose to grate your cauliflower or just place in a food processor to make your ‘rice’
  2. Add vegetable oil to a hot skillet and lightly scramble your eggs with a dash of salt. Remove eggs and set aside
  3. Add more oil to fry the scallions, garlic, ginger and onion, stir until softened- not brown
  4. Add the cauliflower along with some salt and the soya sauce
  5.  Stir constantly and cook until tender
  6. Add the eggs, sesame oil and sugar
  7. Taste to add more seasoning if necessary

It’s that quick and easy to have delicious guilty-free fried rice at home. you can use this dish as a side or even add cooked chicken strips.

Will you try this recipe at home? Comment below

 

5 hair trends you need to leave behind in 2017

We’ve talked about beauty, fashion, and food that have all become a hot mess in 2017. This week we are going to close off the trends series by talking about some wacky hairstyles I’ve seen this year. Here are five hair trends you need to leave behind in 2017:

Unicorn Hair

This one should not come as a surprise! We are living in a culture that seemingly obsessed with a mythical and magical creature. Unicorn hair, or hair in layered pastel colours, is not uncommon to find, especially during the summer of 2017. There were lots of millennial pink heads out there in addition to the rainbow hair styles.

Silver Hair

At one point silver hair on a younger person became all the rage and it’s still present in 2017. Maybe in 2018, we should try not chemically stripping our hair for the sake of fashion and embracing our natural hair. Colourful styles can we fun, but by all means get highlights and stop layering in bleach and dye.

Chunky Highlights

Speaking of highlights, back in October of this year, a hairstylist from New Jersey posted a few pictures of her clients wearing this 90’s trend in 2017. It was well liked and many started to consider bringing back chunky look. Think Kelly Clarkson peak 2003 the Thankful album cover. While we have seen some embarrassing styles in the 90’s (I’m not afraid to admit I was once a lover of chunky highlights too), I think people should return to the preferable the thin, blended or ombre effect for 2018.

Half Shaved Head

It’s the classic ‘badass’ look. Having one side of your head buzzed and the other with a flip of luxurious hair. This look has been popularized in the pop music industry by people like Cassie and Rihanna. It also made its way to Hollywood. However, shaving half or even a bit of your head is a big commitment. If you really want this style you have to stick to it and maintain it, or deal with having uneven hair for a very long time afterwards if the look doesn’t please you.

Excessively Long Extensions

Long hair can be a lot of work, but it sure looks great.  However, if you’re a lover of wearing hair extensions, the excessively overdone look can be bit much. Celebrities like Kim and Kylie Kardashian have been known to switch up their looks ever so often using this trick, but half the time they are using some really good quality wigs. Earlier this year, Kim was known to switch up her looks from blonde to short to extreme 32 inch extensions. It was her “Cher’-inspired beauty look. This Rapunzel type look has been a favourite of celebrities to express drama and luxury — but that doesn’t mean it works for the regular everyday person.

Here is hoping you can leave all the excess baggage and negativity in your life behind for 2017 and focus on better things to come for the New Year!

Leave a comment below!

5 low-carb Christmas recipe ideas

Christmas foods may offer temptation and delight, but if you’re interested in a more low-carb Christmas, maybe for personal of health reasons, Women’s Post has got you covered. Here are five low carb christmas recipe ideas to enjoy over the holidays.

Parmesan Spinach Bake

If you’re thinking about replacing the side order of mac and cheese at the dinner table, this creamy parmesan spinach bake will leave you wanting more. It simply a combination of spinach, cream cheese, and parmesan

Thyme and Honey Roasted Carrots

This can be such an elegant dish once prepared the right way, You can choose to keep the carrots whole or cut them lengthwise while baking and sprinkle with thyme and honey.

Studded Peppers with Bacon and Blue Cheese

It doesn’t get more delicious than mixing blue cheese with bacon. These stuffed peppers can be cut in quarters to offer up as an appetizer.

Baked Cajun Shrimp with Lemon

The perfect combination of spices and zing will make your shrimp burst with juicy flavour as you slowly let it bake in a bed of lemon cajun juice. Talk about adding some heat to your holidays.

Low Carb Coconut Chocolate Mousse

This easy to make chocolate treat will be the perfect finish to your holiday meals. It’s also dairy free and egg free. Simply combine coconut cream, cocoa powder and chocolate to whip up the most creamy and chocolatey dessert.

What will you be making for Christmas dinner? Let us know in the comments below!

5 last minute, impressive D-I-Y holiday gifts

I love gifts that have thought behind it, like personal touches, For instance, last Christmas my niece gifted me a homemade brown sugar and lemon hand scrub, which smelled just as delicious as it sounds. This holiday season, it’s all about that age old saying: ‘it’s the thought that counts’. With the right amount of ingredients, you can craft Christmas presents that will leave others impressed, without spending a ton of money. Here are five do-it-yourself holiday crafts you can git to your loved ones (or even to yourself)!

Hot Chocolate Mix

It’s rather fun to put together deconstructed kits. There is nothing better than some homemade hot-chocolate on a chilly winter night. All you would need is some mason jars, ribbon,  hot cocoa mix, mini marshmallows, crushed candy-cane for topping, and any additional ingredients you choose. There are so many variations: try creating melted snowman hot chocolate by using white chocolate and decorated marshmallows or add a small bottle of Baileys to your chocolate kit for an adult-friendly beverage option.

Sugar Scrub

The options are almost endless when it comes to choosing the ingredients for your sugar scrub. Sugar scrubs are easy to make and make easy and thoughtful gifts. For instance, if your sister loves lavender, consider adding lavender oil to the mix. With a base of brown sugar and coconut oil, adding additional ingredients will be easy.

 Hydrating Face Mists

There is nothing like a little burst of a facial mist to brighten your day. These face mists are easy and portable, and will keep you going on those long days. Depending on the skin type you want to target, you can try a green tea hydrating mist for dry or sensitive skin. Combine water with green tea bags and rosewater, and put it in a spray bottle. The best thing is that these mists can also double as natural toners.

Cookie Mix

Back to the idea of putting together deconstructed ingredients, why not put together your own little d-i-y baking kits for your loved ones or friends. Measure out the appropriate ingredients for your favourite cooke mix and layer in a mason jar or bundle a collection of tubes. Feel free to write out your own recipe card to include with the gifts for an even more personalized touch. The same can work for cakes and other pastries.

Bath Bombs

D-I-Y bath bombs are fun and easy to make. Using a base of baking soda, epsom salts, and citric acid, you can combine different essential body oils and essences to come up with the perfect scents. You can also add colour, glitter, and even petals to your homemade bath treats.

Are you putting together some DIY holiday gifts? Let us know what you made in the comments below!

Recipe: holiday-themed maple creme brûlée

As Christmas is slowly sneaking up, it’s time to start thinking about your holiday menu. Or maybe you need some ideas for when you will be entertaining guests? Maple creme brûlée is a perfect example of a French-Canadian inspired dessert for the holiday season. It’s simple, creamy, delicious — and a little more impressive than the typical sugar cookie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream ( or whipping cream )
  • 1/2 cup Canadian Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp maple sugar or granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp Demerara sugar ( for topping )

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan, scald the cream until small bubbles start to form. Then remove from heat.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla extract, maple sugar and maple syrup. Blend well.
  4. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot cream and stir until smooth and of a uniform colour.
  5. Fill your baking dish or individual ramekins with the custard mixture, but only halfway.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes.
  7. Once done, leave the custards to cool for about 40 minutes or refrigerate for 2 hours.

To Brûlée:

  • Preheat the broiler, or prepare your brûlée torch.
  • Place the custard dish on a baking sheet and evenly sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top of the custard.
  • Once sugar is even this means caramelization will be equal and ensure a crunchy top layer all around.
  • Broil /torch until light brown.

Hope you will enjoy cracking into this delicious treat. Let us know in the comments.

5 fashion trends you need to leave behind in 2017

If you have been following with the trends to leave behind in 2017, you would have read my list of five food trends and five beauty trends that should be tossed in the garbage before you ring in the new year. This week, after a well-tested Instagram poll, I am tackling fashion. Sometimes, fashion trends stick around for way too long, and these five items are no exception!

Fluffy footwear

A little bit of faux fur on your feet —no problem. In fact, there was some cute Steve Madden pumps with a bit of  fur trim that was quite popular this year. I am talking about the extremely obnoxious full fur slippers that have been spotted on celebrities around Hollywood. The ones that look like bedroom slippers, but are worn in public for some reason. I get they are comfortable, but some things just need to be left at home (or behind) in 2017.

Bucket hats

After being a popular hit in the 90’s, these hats made a brief come back in 2017. I’ve seen Kanye West, Justin Beiber, Chris Brown, Pharrell, and even Rihanna wearing these hats. Maybe it’s my personal preference, but I just don’t find the bucket hat quite appealing. Maybe it comes in handy for a fishing trip though.

Off the shoulder/shoulder robing jackets

I’ve seen this look a lot in 2017, the “effortless throw off your bomber or oversized jean jacket and let it hang off your shoulders” trend. It has slightly replaced shoulder robing. It’s just that suggestive approach of showing off the right amount of shoulder. Popular on celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, this caught on fast. The jacket is never fully on, it’s just hanging there…

Coachella-inspired fashion

Have you even noticed, especially around the start of summer, the common look in stores, year after year is the kind of boho-chic festival style. It’s that carefree, wild child with a flower crown, in a distressed tank top and short shorts kind of look. We have seen her —we have been her, but it’s time to retire this Coachella look every single summer. Unless you’re actually going to Coachella then thats fine … I guess.

Over the top nail art

I love getting my nails done or doing it myself, but when I explore some of the nail design pages on Instagram, I am shocked that many people still get their nails done with over the top and elaborate designs like studs and flowers. I understand wanting to show off your creativity, but this can be a bit much. Did anyone see the fidget spinner nails? Yes, those happened.

What else should we leave behind when it comes to fashion trends. Comment below!

Fun gift ideas for your kids this Christmas

I’m sure your holiday shopping list is already long enough, but have you started actually buying your holiday gifts yet? When it comes to the children in our lives, whether it’s your own kids, nephews, nieces or little cousins, the best gifts you can give them during the holidays is a sense of family and fun. But, they will still be looking out for gifts from Santa under that tree, so here are some toy ideas for the little ones in your life, or maybe for yourself because we are all kids at heart.

Colouring Books

So, colouring books have changed a lot since the 90s. Somehow, within the last year or so, colouring books became fun again, with many targeting adults as a stress reliever. With that being said, there are many options available for kids with beautiful illustrations. If your kids are into Harry Potter, consider getting them a Harry Potter Colouring book by Scholastic. This book also comes with many different options under the HP theme, including magical creatures and magical places. This book is recommended for ages 8-99 on the Scholastic website.

Personalized Bedtime Book

This one is definitely geared towards the younger kids. Give them the opportunity to get excited while seeing a character of themselves come to life in a version of their favourite bedtime story. Places like Me Bookz lets you choose your storyline, upload a picture of your child, add in details, and place your order for a hard copy version of your child’s story. You can also add an additional character to the story, just in case you want to add in your child’s favourite/ or annoying sibling. This gift is definitely something your child can hold onto and cherish even as they get older.

Chocolate Pen

If you have a little one that’s chocolate obsessed, why not give them the unique and yummy option of writing with a chocolate pen. This isn’t an actual pen made of chocolate, but a pen that dispenses liquid chocolate which hardens at room temperature. This opportunity allows your child to draw little 3-D versions of their treats before they eat them. This makes decorating cookies even easier and promotes creativity for your child. The Chocolate Pen also comes with different colours of chocolate, including white chocolate, pink and blue. The kit also comes with different candy moulds so your child can feel like a true master chocolatier.

PlayStation 4 Slim/ Nintendo Switch

If you have a child, or even a teenager that’s been after you to get the Playstation 4 , but you’re not willing to commit to the price, try going slimmer. The Playstation 4 Slim was released late last year and costs a fraction of the original Playstation 4. if you’re looking for the hottest option this year, price aside, the Nintendo Switch is generating a lot of positive buzz in the gaming world.

Hatchimals

This is an interesting one. I’ve seen it quite a lot of them while shopping around. The Hatchimals seems to be the latest craze for young kids, where children can watch and wait in anticipation as their new toy pet hatches out of an egg. This magical egg offers a thrilling surprise as your children learn about nurturing and love. Hatchimals even comes with a surprise twin option or various different critters that your child can watch grow.

Popin Cookin Kits

Unusual, cute and unique, these Popin Cookin kits by Kracie are popular in placed like Japan, where users of all ages are invited to craft miniature versions of food. I will admit, I have watched many You Tube videos on this trend and it’s quite fascinating. Your kids can craft miniature donuts, hamburgers, complete with fries and a soda or even sushi, pizza and ramen. These kits can be ordered on Amazon or maybe you can find one in a random grocery store in Little Italy like I did.

An Experience Coupon

This may be the most creative gift you give your child or children in your life. Think about their interests and take them on a fun outing for the holidays. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa to pamper your princess with her first manicure or a trip to the aquarium to delight them with creatures of the sea. Any memories made are worth more than a dozen presents.

Merry Christmas Shopping and let us know in the comments below what you plan to buy for your kids.