Chef Amanda Freitag may look and act tough as nails on Food Network's Chopped and Iron Chef America, but in person, she's all smiles and infectious giggles. Fun fact: she and POPSUGAR LIVE host Matthew Rodrigues worked together on the set of Iron Chef America, so right away, she was happy to chat with another member of the family. I caught up with her after her cooking demonstration at the San Francisco Chipotle Cultivate Festival, where we talked about her life as a judge, chef competitor, and most recently, restaurant owner.
POPSUGAR: You are so bubbly and warm, but your personality on Chopped is so different! How is that?
Amanda Freitag: It is. I get totally edited. I'm funny behind the scenes. I'm funny sometimes with the chefs. I think they capture those moments when I'm being stern. That's only one part of me. The other fun-loving, playful part is the other 80 percent. It's hard. I have to be a judge; I have to be intimidating and serious.
PS: What have been some of your favorite moments as a judge on Chopped?
AF: Oh my . . . how much time do we have? Wonderful moments like when the lunch ladies competed, which we now call them "school chefs." There was not a dry eye in the house. Sam Kass was our guest judge who works with Michelle Obama on the White House food movement. These women, what they're doing and how they make those kids feel normal and feed them, as a chef, it's something I hope I can do someday. It was so moving.
Aside from the moments when people burn themselves, cut themselves, fall down, put nothing on a plate, Madison Cowan was a memorable chef for me, because he came on Chopped and blew us away. He made the most incredible, delicate, elegant food with a humble background and story. We were all blown away. That doesn't happen often.
PS: More often than not, is it judging the least disastrous of the bunch?
AF: Not always disastrous. It's a tough environment. Everyone is a little flustered. I've competed in that kitchen a couple of times. I can say it's incredibly hard — harder than Iron Chef for me. Chopped is 30 minutes. There is very little equipment, very limited pantry.
Keep reading to learn more about Chef Freitag's new restaurant.