Amanda FreitagFood Network's Chopped
Chef, Author, Television Star
A chef’s passion and talent is transparent, and for chef Amanda Freitag, her love affair with food has reached the pinnacle of transparency. Freitag has put her discipline and talent for all to see and taste: The result is a career cooking for patrons in New York’s best kitchens and educating at-home foodies on the Food Network and Cooking Channel.
Freitag’s infatuation transpired in high school. While other slept during home economics, Freitag was discovering her love of ingredients. When it was time for college, the Culinary of Institute America was the only fit. “It was chef’s heaven,” says Freitag, who is born and raised in New Jersey.
After graduating from CIA in New York, Freitag settled into a coveted spot at Vong under world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in 1992. She proved to be a talented young cook with a thirst to learn. First, she worked in pastry, then as garde manger, and finally was promoted to work the line. “Vong was a great training ground for my palate. I had never worked with Thai ingredients before, and combining them with French techniques was an incredible learning experience.”
Freitag left Vong in search of a new kitchen role and landed at Diane Forley’s Verbena for six years, an unprecedented time length for a chef. Freitag worked every station: appetizers, pastry and more before becoming chef de cuisine. Verbena was a learning tool above all. This is where she learned the true meaning of seasonality and began visiting Union Square Greenmarket. “The green market introduced me to seasonal cooking and got me into the groove of wanting to create new dishes with each season,” says Freitag. Freitag’s eyes were further opened to fresh food when she traveled to Paris for a stage at Alain Passard’s three Michelin-starred restaurant, Arpège, where every morning the cooler was restocked from scratch. Fresh food at its finest.
In 2000 Freitag opened the Dining Room with Mark Spangenthal. She then explored her fascination with Mediterranean cuisine. Freitag became the sous chef at Sara Jenkins’ Il Buco making pasta and falling in love with authentic Italian cuisine; then she became executive chef for Lavagna. She joined Tribeca Grand Hotel as chef de cuisine in 2003.
The next year, she got wind of an opportunity too good to pass: Tom Valenti was opening Upper West Side’s Cesca. She was Valenti’s opening chef de cuisine for two years, before she was recruited to open Sette in Brooklyn. In early 2008 she took on her biggest challenge, The Harrison, a restaurant with New York heart and soul, as executive chef. The Harrison received a two star review a few months after Freitag’s takeover, a testament to her talent.
It was during this time frame that Freitag was introduced to a new culinary world, one that takes place on a set rather than behind a stove. Food Network asked Freitag to compete on Iron Chef America. Her battle against Bobby Flay aired in 2009. That year she also was selected to be a judge on Food Network’s hit show Chopped, now in its 14th season.
Freitag returned to the Iron Chef stage as a contestant for season two of Next Iron Chef, making it to the final four in Tokyo. The Harrison, which received a lot of attention from Freitag’s appearance, turned each episode into a sporting-like event on Sundays with a special menu. In 2010, Freitag left The Harrison to pursue new opportunities.
She joined Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel in 2010. The show, which is in its sixth season, travels around the country to find the most Unique eats. “I always thought of Europe for food inspiration,” says Freitag. “Unique Eats opened my eyes to what’s going on in the U.S.” Freitag also returned to Iron Chef for its fifth season, The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, where she placed runner-up. The season aired in late 2012.
With her talent, perseverance and personality, Freitag’s career is covering new ground. She’ll be making a debut in bookstores with her first cookbook, currently a work in progress, and is working on a future restaurant project. With Freitag, this career is truly unlimited: “I got to where I am by being a hard working chef.”