In the kitchen with Shereen Arazm

The Toronto-raised Top Chef Canada judge and restauranteur chats about work-life balance, living with her family in Los Angeles, and her favourite food.

Shereen with her little chefs, Sam, 4, and Neve, 1. Photo: Steven Wood.

This is your third season as a Top Chef Canada judge. What has working on the show been like?
It’s amazing because I really admire and love chefs. They are my rock stars. The other awesome part about it for me is that I get to come home for six weeks. I get to see my best friends from childhood and their children, and they get to play with my children, so my kids can really experience being Canadian, which I’m super proud of.

As owner of the restaurant Geisha House and co-owner of two Terroni LA locations, how do you balance work and kids?
I just accept the fact that I feel guilty all the time. And the truth is, there aren’t a lot of women in my world; there aren’t a lot of female restaurant owners. I love my job and I hope that when I’m working and I’m not with my girls, it will impart upon them a sense of wanting to have a career and wanting to love their job.

Who does the majority of the cooking in your family?
Me, although my husband is getting really good on the barbecue.

How do you manage the cooking with your busy schedule?
Well, it helps having the restaurant, because Terroni is really close to my house. We eat there every Sunday because I like to work on that night, and this way, I have the family with me. But it’s very much a family restaurant. There are a million kids there on Sundays, and it’s just a way for my mom, my sister, my husband, my kids and me to all connect. My kids really look forward to it. During the week, we eat like Europeans, in the respect that I don’t go to the grocery store once and freeze stuff. I arrange my schedule so that I go to the store on Mondays and either Wednesdays or Thursdays, because I buy food that we will eat that night and over the following few days.

What do you like to cook for your family?
We eat a lot of fish — we’re definitely not vegetarians. We eat a lot of chicken. I don’t do kid menus for my older daughter, not even for the baby. They eat what we eat. I try to do a protein and two veggies.

What’s your go-to meal when you have a crazy day and don’t have a dinner plan?
Definitely, fresh spinach tortellini. It cooks up in 12 minutes, then I toss it with a little bit of olive oil and fresh parmigiano.

Do your kids cook with you a lot?
Sam cooks with me, but Neve is too young to help. I let her throw her hands in there and get super messy, though, because I think it’s good for kids to get familiar with food. Sam makes her own eggs every morning. She loves making scrambled eggs with cheese and chopped-up tomatoes.

Are your girls similar in terms of their eating habits?
They both eat everything. Sam is a lot like me. She thinks a lot about food. Sometimes, in the morning, she’ll say to me. “Mama, I want to have lamb chops tonight.” And then I’ll pick her up from school and she’ll be like, “Remember, I asked for lamb chops? We’re having lamb chops, right?” She just loves to eat. And I think that’s because I love to eat, and I feel I have a healthy approach to eating. I really don’t force them to eat. When they’re done, they’re done.

Where did your love of food come from?
My mother, and my grandmother on my father’s side, who lives in Vancouver. She’s Persian, so she cooked a lot of Middle Eastern food. She had chickens in her backyard, so we got eggs from the chicken coop and she made everything from scratch. I just really loved being in the kitchen with her. Her soup is still my most favourite thing in the world.

What kind of soup is it?
It’s a chicken-and-vegetable barley soup with lemon. And no matter how hard I try, when I make it, it never tastes like hers. She makes it each time I see her and it warms my soul.

A version of this article appeared in our May 2013 issue with the headline. “Shereen Arazm,” p.112.