Six questions with Top Chef Canada judge Shereen Arazam

This is the last of my Top Chef Canada judge interviews. Even though I haven’t seen her in action yet, I have a feeling that judge Shereen Arazam will be my favourite (we do have the same name, after all). A native Torontonian, she now lives in Los Angeles where she owns and operates celebrity hotspots like Geisha House.

judge Shereen Arazam (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

judge Shereen Arazam (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

1. You’re a successful and busy businesswoman in the U.S. Why did you want to come back to Canada to judge Top Chef?

I love Toronto, I’m a very proud Canadian, as you will find with many of us who live in the US. It’s an honour to be invited to judge Top Chef Canada and a thrill to come home for the summer. Thank goodness it didn’t shoot in January!

2. How did your past experiences as a bartender and a business owner, as opposed to being a chef, influence the way you judged the chefs?

My experiences in the restaurant/bar business was first and foremost as a server and floor manager, much more on the food side. I was a server many more years than a bartender but all aspects of working in the service industry have helped my career. I’ve done EVERY job – I even washed the damn dishes at my first job at Terroni in Toronto! – and having done every position, from bussing to cleaning, to serving, to making drinks and to managing, has been invaluable. When you understand every position it helps you with perspective in your own business. I know a lot about cooking and food because it has been in my “job” for 20 years. I am not a chef, but I have worked with many of them, some great, some not so much – all of which I learned from. I know what “good” is and I know what works and what does NOT work or sell in a restaurant.

Ultimately that’s how I judged the chefs on Top Chef Canada. “Would this sell in my restaurant? Is it “good?”. At the end of the day, your success is measured in your sales….you cannot continue to do what you do and put out a great product if the people are not buying it, no matter how great you think it is. That is why 9 out of 10 restaurants fail. Looking at my sales in the last 8 years of owning my own businesses, I think I can judge what people want and what is “good.”

3. Did you find any differences in the food made by Canadian chefs vs. food made by U.S. chefs? Or in the chefs themselves?

I didn’t necessarily find differences in the Canadian chefs compared to the American chefs. Good is just good, no matter where you come from.

4. Were there any surprises?

I was surprised there weren’t more women I guess. But then again, I’m always surprised by that in this business at every level. There aren’t a lot of female owners and chefs, but I think that’s changing.

5. What makes Top Chef Canada stand out from all the other Top Chef tv shows?

The thing that makes Top Chef Canada stand out from the other Top Chef shows is that it’s Canadian. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be shocked how little some people know about Canada. Some Americans I have talked to, who have visited Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, are stunned at the amazing restaurants and cuisine. It never ceases to amaze me how shocking it is to people who have never experienced Canada. The chefs on this season are literally from coast to coast. We have a chef from Newfoundland and a few from BC and they are all so talented and inspiring.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to become a Top Chef competitor, what would it be?

Some advice to any potential Top Chef competitors? Remain true to yourself and your gut. You are trying to win, but don’t get into your head and second guess yourself because of what other or judges have said. We gave them crazy tasks some times and most of them rose to the challenge, but listening to the little voice in your head will always keep you on track. BUT, remember it is a competition, bring your A game and compete to win. If anything it will be an experience you will NEVER forget.

Top Chef Canada premieres on Food Network Canada, on Monday, April 11, 2011. I can’t wait!

Oh, and stay tuned to this blog for more interviews with each contestant after they have been voted off. If you have a burning question to ask one of them, do let me know. Fair warning, I make no guarantees about using your question, but if I do use it I will give you credit for it. The earlier you can get it to me the better — preferably by the end of the broadcast night on which they are voted off.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

Six questions with Top Chef Canada head judge, Chef Mark McEwan

Next up in my Top Chef Canada interviews is head judge Chef Mark McEwan. He’s a busy, busy guy. Not quite sure how he found the time to answer my questions in between working on his growing food businesses, cookbooks, TV shows, etc.

head judge Mark McEwan (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

head judge Mark McEwan (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

1. You already have a number of businesses and your own TV shows. What attracted you to become a judge on Top Chef Canada?

I really felt that it was a good fit due to my age and experience. It is a great concept and has worked well in the U.S..

2. Was the making of this series quite a bit different from your other TV shows, or did you have similar experiences?

The whole concept of a competition show was very different for me. I really enjoyed the fast paced environment and learning the subtle nuances as well as where other, up and coming chefs have their strengths and weaknesses. In “The Heat,” I am working with my own staff and already know those types of things and have put staff members together to get the most out of them. Both have been amazing experiences.

3. Did you find any differences in the food made by Canadian chefs vs. food made by U.S. chefs? Or in the chefs themselves?

I believe that we are actually borderless except for the chefs from the southern United States that have different techniques and use different ingredients, creating a very distinct flavour.

4. Were there any surprises?

Many things surprised me, the extreme ups and downs of the chefs, both in their personalities as well as the way that they were affected by the different scenarios and challenges was the thing I really didn’t expect.

5. What makes Top Chef Canada stand out from all the other Top Chef tv shows?

It’s our own, it is true to our country and the diversity of our country. It is incredibly honest which I feel is very Canadian.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to become a Top Chef competitor, what would it be?

TASTE-TASTE-TASTE!!! And don’t try to over achieve!

Top Chef Canada premieres on Food Network Canada, on Monday, April 11, 2011.

One more interview coming up later this week. You can read all these interviews by using this handy dandy Top Chef Canada list.