In this edition of our expat-profile series, the Top Chef Canada judge tells us how she missed Toronto so much, she moved Terroni there.
Top Chef Canada judge and former Torontonian Shereen Arazm has a long, successful history creating It-spot restaurants and lounges in her newer home of L.A., including Concorde (Paris Hilton was an investor), El Centro, and the Hollywood-epic sushi joint Geisha House. A former Torontonian who was voted one of the best hosts in L.A. by the Los Angeles Times magazine, Arazm moved there in 1999. In 2007, she opened a Terroni location in L.A. with Toronto Terroni owner Cosimo Mammoliti, and is opening another there in the fall. “The reason I kept bugging Cosimo to bring Terroni to L.A. was because it is exactly what was missing from the Los Angeles Italian food scene,” she says. “There wasn’t a place like it here. The L.A. Italian food scene was non-authentic, very American, affordable ‘Italian’ restaurants, or stuffy, high-end, no-ambiance places. Cosimo and I made a deal with each other that if Angelinos didn’t respect the rules, the food, the standards, we would not cave. We would close before we would have anyone dictate the Terroni brand. I felt confidant people here would ‘get it’ even though so many people told me they wouldn’t, that Angelinos won’t deal with [Terroni's infamous] no-substitutions [policy]. They were wrong.”
Are you happy you moved?
I love my life in Los Angeles, although I miss Toronto so much. I met my husband on an airplane coming from Toronto back to L.A. He was working in Toronto and loves the city as much as I do. I get very melancholy about missing Toronto.
Does anything about L.A. remind you of Toronto?
Nothing in L.A. reminds me of Toronto. The cities are so different.
What is a typical day in L.A. like for you?
My typical L.A. day is often different, which is why I love my job. Today, for example, I have my weekly construction meeting at the new Terroni downtown location with my partner, our architect, and contractor. After that, I have a meeting with our new landlord about taking over some adjoining space. Then I head up to a meeting with our insurance broker—boring!—at one of my restaurants for lunch. In the afternoon, I have a meeting with our party planner to go over parties in the weeks to come. Then I pick up my daughter from school and plan dinner. Depending on what day it is or what’s happening in the restaurants that night, it’s bath- and bedtime for the kids and/or sometimes back to work.
What do you tell your friends about L.A.?
I tell my girlfriends back home that the shopping and people-watching here is second to none! A lot of plastic, and I don’t mean credit cards. My girlfriends actually visit a lot. I also talk to my friends in the food biz a lot about the restaurant scene here. It’s really exploding, and has a lot of very cool stuff going on. L.A. is becoming a force in the culinary world.
What surprised you most about L.A.?
I suppose what surprised me most about moving to L.A. was how huge it is. All the different areas are so far apart and there is really no public transit, so you spend a lot of time in your car and in traffic. I never thought I would miss the subway!
What do you miss about Toronto?
I miss the culture in Toronto. L.A. is very void of it, and being raised in an amazing and multicultural city like Toronto, you don’t really realize how lucky you are and how exposed you are to it all until you are not there.
I miss the walking culture in the city. Things like Kensington Market. Imagine Toronto without it? Its smells, stores, markets. My kids love walking through Kensington. I miss Chinatown. We don’t have a Chinatown here. I always head there my first week home for Chinese food! My favourite place is on Spadina just north of Dundas and I order everything, then I take pictures of all the food and send to my sister back in L.A., with the subject: “JEALOUS?”
I love The Harbord Room and always go for the tasting menu. It never disappoints. I cannot wait to get to Actinolite on my next trip home. I’m actually trying to plan a trip home just to get there! I love the Greek festival on the Danforth if we are there for it. I always go to my favorite Persian restaurant on Yonge Street; it’s a trek but totally worth it. I love watching my big, blond, American stepson order us all dinner in Farsi—I’m half Iranian. It’s hilarious and adorable and the food is so good. We talk about missing it all the time here.
I also really like Guu. It’s fun and raucous and great. You must drink beer and sake while there, though; not a quiet, Zen experience, so you have to be in the mood. I’m so sad to see the Four Seasons go. I loved going to the bar there, loved having brunch in the window on a snowy day with my family. I know it was dated, but it was great people-watching. I got engaged there and it has been there my whole life.
What don’t you miss about Toronto?
I don’t miss the weather in Toronto! Okay, I had to say it, and you had to know that’s what I would say. It’s actually not entirely true: I miss the changing seasons, I miss the fall smells and the leaves changing, I miss the excitement in the air in the city when it’s spring and everyone is so happy the summer is coming. I do miss the snow; I just don’t miss January to March. The grey, the slush, the wet cold. That part I do not miss.
Would you ever move back to Toronto?
My husband and I discuss it all the time as he loves the city as much as I do. I’m lucky to have been able to come back in the summer for Top Chef Canada. The whole family comes, my stepson, my daughters, my husband.