Coffee With Amanda Freitag, Formerly of Cedar Grove – Chef, Chopped Judge, Competitor


Amanda Freitag - head shotChopped: After Hours is a brand new web series from the Food Network, which features the judges from the popular Chopped competition show cooking with the same basket ingredients that competing chefs they just judged had to work with. Armed with the same pantry and the same 20 or 30 minutes on the clock, the judges get to demonstrate their skill and creativity in a more “informal, anything goes, after-hours showcase”.

Now in its second week, the web series will feature judges such as Alex Guarnaschelli, Chris Santos, Aaron Sanchez, Marc Murphy, Maneet Chauhan, host Ted Allen — and Amanda Freitag, who grew up in Cedar Grove, and will be making her debut in the episodes available online during the weeks of June 13 and 18. Chopped:After Hours will also include a behind-the-scenes look at the judges interacting in the kitchen and show a more playful side of the often tough critics. Ten different webisodes will be released through December, after each televised on-air Chopped show.

Chopped After Hours Logo

Freitag, a mainstay Chopped judge, has competed herself on Iron Chef and more recently on Chopped: All Stars, is known for her exacting standards and a stare that has silenced many a competing chef.

Baristanet caught up with chef Freitag the other day.

Q. I understand your high school home economics teacher was an influence.

A: Yes, she was. Her name is Ms. Levine and she introduced me to the idea of going to Culinary School.

Q. Did growing up in northern NJ have any impact on your career choice, cooking style?
A: Well, I really love food in general, and was always exposed to Jersey diners and Italian red sauce joints. I think it sparked my love for comfort food.

Q. Do you get back to this area much? Any favorite restaurants here?

A: I come to Cedar Grove often. My mom still lives there and going home always makes me feel like a kid again. My dear friend Ariane Duarte and her husband own Culinariane. It’s one of my favorite spots.

Q. Now that you’ve done Chopped: All-Stars and Chopped: After Hours has it altered your approach as a Chopped judge?
A: I have competed a lot and every time that I do, whether it be Next Iron Chef, Chopped or any other competition, I honor the competitors and respect their bravery.

Q. You are a demanding Chopped judge, but a mutual acquaintance tells me you are a kind and helpful person. What drives you to push other chefs?
A: I treat the contestants like they were cooks on my team and try to give them some knowledge that they can take away from the experience and grow with.

Q. Any other memory about Cedar Grove that played a role in your early cooking experiences or career choice?
A: As a teenager I worked several positions at a place called The Friar Tuck Inn (editor note: where The Grove now stands). It was a humble beginning but everyone has to start somewhere.

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