There are many reasons why Amanda Freitag believes herself to be The Next Iron Chef. In our opinion, her personality alone takes the competition. The fan favorite chef-judge gives off a competitive energy balanced by a deep awareness of her peers (contestants and judges alike). It makes her an integral part of the food community, and whether you’ve seen her competing on The Next Iron Chef, or at the judges’ table on Chopped, you’ve probably fallen in love with her already. We certainly have, which is why we sat down and got her take on season five of The Next Iron Chef: Redemption. Watch out; redemption is what she’s going for.
What would be your ideal food day?
Oh my god, I need some preparation for that. Well, breakfast would be in Paris – a baguette with butter. Lunch would be in Italy with a bottle of wine, pasta and steak. Then dinner would probably be back in New York City. I’d probably have a burger at Shake Shack.
You’ve worked with iconic chefs such as Tom Valenti, Alain Passard and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. How did these chefs shape you?
When I talk to young people and culinary students, they ask me a lot about how I got to where I am and how I started. I’m really a conglomeration of those chefs, starting first with Jean Georges and getting to cook side by side with him – which is much rarer now. Then opening a restaurant with Tom and working with Diane for six years, which is just an unheard of amount of time in the culinary world. She was very smart; she knew I wanted to do my own thing and she’d say, “you’ll get your chance.” She told me to write down the ideas I had and remember them, because then when I was my own chef, I could express them. The way she put it was really great.
Are you excited about Season Five of The Next Iron Chef? What are some personal goals?
Well, there’s a reason why this season’s called Redemption. I competed in 2009; it was very intense and really the hardest thing I’ve ever done – and the other competitors would tell you the same. A lot has changed since then; food TV feels a bit more saturated, but it’s still just as hard as it was before. But I love the experience of being in the kitchen cooking. I work best under pressure, so all this creativity comes out when I compete and I really love it. It’s also good for all of us because fans will see us as judges (or as hosts on shows) but then they get see us cooking hands on, sweating and having to compete – it’s a great experience.
What ingredient would you hope to be assigned? Which are you dreading?
Well, I’ve competed on Chopped as well, and that’s a whole other experience. People are always asking ‘Do you all know the ingredients in the basket?’ and I say, ‘No way, not even close!’ Something that comes up a lot in that basket – that I’d never want – is this soy bean called Natto. I would never want that ingredient. I don’t know what to do with it or how to cook it. I know then as a chef I should go out and buy it and try to cook with it, but I think I’m staying away from it for the moment. Then, in terms of dream ingredients, I think I’d like just fresh, simple ingredients – a basket of heirloom tomatoes or farm-raised chicken. Although sometimes, with those crazy weird ingredients, you do have to push yourself harder to do something with them, which is good. But with a simple farm-raised chicken, everyone can cook that, so you have the challenge of making it in the very best way.