Chef Amanda Freitag Moves From Set to Stove

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Chef Amanda Freitag in the dining room at the Harrison. Photo: Melissa Hom

America met Amanda Freitag last summer when she was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef. Now she’s even better known as a judge on the Food Network show Chopped. "I'm sure 90 percent of the people who watch the show are like, 'I'd like to see the judges try that,'" she said of the contestants’ often baffling takes on the ingredients in the show’s signature “mystery basket.” Viewers will get their chance on Monday, when Freitag joins her fellow chef-judges in a Chopped-inspired live cook-off at Savor, a fund-raiser for Gay Men's Health Crisis. When she’s not passing stern judgment on television, Freitag is the executive chef at Jimmy Bradley's Tribeca restaurant, the Harrison. Try to catch up with Freitag on this week's N.Y. Diet, which takes her from the kitchen to the set to her mom's house in New Jersey.

Friday, February 19
I started off with a latte. Most of my workdays start off with a very strong coffee — sometimes I make it at home, some days I buy it. This day I'd gone for a chiropractic adjustment and I met a friend, so it was a Starbucks coffee and a Starbucks breakfast. I had an apple bran muffin, and I'd stuck a banana in my purse before I left the house, so I had that as well. That was breakfast.

I headed down to work and started cooking and working, and lunch didn't really happen. During my prep time I was portioning some cold braised pork belly and I ate about three ounces of it — I tasted a little end piece, and another end piece, and at the end I was like, "I should probably weigh this." And then for our family meal at 4:30, we had pulled pork. It was kind of a pork day for me. I also had a bowl of romaine salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Around 10:30 p.m. there was a half of an apple crostata that was broken, and I ate it, because I was in the mood for something sweet. I usually have a shift drink at the end of the night, but I had the crostata instead.

And then my boyfriend, who lives in Bay Ridge, came to pick me up. He had just had dinner at Tanoreen, and he brought me this vegetable wrap. From Tribeca to Park Slope, I finished the whole thing. So that was a great, great late-night snack. It had cracked wheat, all these spices, peppers, tomatoes — it was pretty dark so I couldn't see exactly, but I could taste it.

Saturday, February 20
I had a homemade coffee with a fat-free yogurt at home. On Saturdays I usually double the caffeine, I really pump it up, because it's the last day of my work week and the busiest. So I had a latte when I got to work, too. I had a banana.

My lunch was a small piece of fresh-basked hot brownie out of the oven. My pastry chef put her hand out with this golden light shining down on this hot brownie, and I was like, I can't say no. These are the perks of my job.

At family meal I had the standard romaine salad — that doesn't really change ever. We had lamb ragout with penne pasta. My co-workers like to make me try things, so a server split a bottle of mango kombucha with me. It was very generous of her — those things are expensive! And then all through service I drank a full four cups of an iced tea–cranberry juice mix, to keep me going and hydrated.

I was headed out that night after work to New Jersey to visit my mom, who's quite the night owl, and of course she had ordered a pizza from the local pizzeria, Esposito's in Cedar Grove. It's called the “everything” pizza and it literally had everything on it: pepperoni, pieces of meatballs, peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms. It was the bomb pizza. I got there at 1 a.m. and I had the first slice cold, because it just went down that way, and then I had another slice because I was like, "Okay, if I'm going to be a glutton, I'm taking it all the way." And then to be a little healthy I had a side salad, an iceberg salad. For me it's really satisfying, just having iceberg lettuce.

Sunday, February 21
Sunday was party day. My mom was having a jewelry party — it’s like a Tupperware party, but this lady comes and sets up jewelry and sells it. It’s kind of modern, kind of cheesy. We had a very light breakfast, cranberry juice and chobani yogurt, and I had a half of a blueberry muffin. For some reason everything in New Jersey is ten times bigger than it should be, including the muffins that my mom buys. And of course I had coffee.

Basically the rest of the day had no meal structure whatsoever. The jewelry lady came over, and my mom had ordered some platters from a local catering company — cheese, mini sandwiches, crudités, and a mixed cookie platter. I ate four cubes of Monterey jack, about a half a cup of Doritos, a mini turkey-and-swiss sandwich, about three broccoli spears, a handful of baby carrots dipped in ranch dressing, and then — I’m not even sure how to equate this into actual food — I had four large pieces of pumpernickel bread dipped into spinach dip, which was inside of a hollowed out large round of pumpernickel. And then, of course, to top it off, I had two chocolate cookies — butter cookies that were enrobed in very low-end chocolate, but they were very good.

I had to head back to Brooklyn, and of course Mom, not wanting me to go anywhere hungry, sent me home with the sandwiches. I was filming Chopped the next day, and they usually pick me up around 5:45 a.m., which is not really my usual schedule, so I had a hard time falling asleep. I had another mini turkey sandwich.

Monday, February 22
When we get to the set of Chopped, we get the information of what's going to be in the baskets ahead of time. I was so horrified by the thought of what I was going to be eating that I decided to make a base in my stomach to protect myself. So I had coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, and roasted potatoes while they were making my hair look like I hadn't slept on it for two hours.

I can't tell you what I ate during the shoot until the show airs, but I can tell you I ate nine plates of the strangest combinations of food, starting at 8:30 in the morning and finishing at 7p.m. More than nine plates. It's a lot.

On filming days, I drink so many different beverages to stay awake and stay hydrated. It's very dry in there, and when the contestants are cooking the kitchen gets very hot. I drank Coca-Cola, lime seltzer, and coffee. I also ate a fair amount of Jolly Ranchers — I have to say, I really appreciate the little snacks on my craft-service table because they're just so fun and random.

Later on, since I was awake and dressed and had my hair and makeup done, I went to the D'artagnan 25th anniversary party, which was at Guastavino's. Before I entered the building I was waiting for some friends and I had a Gatorade — I was fearful that I was going to have too much wine so I wanted to hydrate. Inside, I had three very, very small pours of Malbec, probably the equivalent of one glass, and I had a foie gras skewer and a very small plate of cassoulet.

Tuesday, February 23
Tuesday was a Chopped day again, and again I feared the basket ingredients so I had a big breakfast: coffee, orange juice, oatmeal, and a Nutri-Grain bar.

I kept the beverages going all day. More Coca-Cola, which really helps keep me stay awake, more coffee, and then I stuck with water pretty much the rest of the day. I knew I didn't have to go anywhere afterwards — not a party, not work, not anywhere — so I had a beer from the green room. It was a Sierra Nevada. It was delicious — so cold, so perfect. After eating all those different foods and tasting all those different plates, having a beer was like the perfect thing.

I convinced myself not to eat anything else when I got home, which worked until around 10 p.m., when I got hungry. I still had some of those weird catering sandwiches from my mom in my fridge, so I deconstructed them and I made my own sandwich using fresh bread: turkey, melted muenster cheese, some mustard. That was my gourmet, homemade dinner out of leftovers.

Wednesday, February 24
I was feeling incredibly dehydrated and totally off my game because I’d had two days of that Chopped schedule, so when I got back into work mode, hydration was the plan. I had a green Naked Juice, I had a Vita Coco water — and a coffee, of course. And I had a lemon Larabar.

For lunch, I had a quarter cup of spaetzle. We were recipe-testing and I was tasting tasting — what happens usually when I taste something is that it'll taste really good, and it becomes not just tasting but eating. For family meal all I had was romaine salad, the ever-popular salad at the Harrison family meal. I had a glass of Shiraz as well, as a shift drink before I left. That was it until I got home, and that's always the worst. I heated up a can of Amy's organic chili, garnished it with fat-free sour cream, and had some chili-lime chips on the side.