Chef Amanda Freitag of Food Network's Chopped and Iron Chef America had a lot to say about pork during her cooking demonstration at the San Francisco Chipotle Cultivate Festival. Bacon lovers cheered as she drew a fat roll of pancetta out of the fridge. She made a pork chop topped with crispy pancetta, and along the way shared her best practices for buying, prepping, and cooking pancetta. Seasoned pancetta cooks and newbies alike should keep reading for some key pancetta-cooking tips.
For the past two and a half years, Nate Appleman has been Chipotle's culinary manager, working on recipe developing for the burrito chain and its new Asian eatery ShopHouse, sourcing ingredients, and streamlining kitchen and restaurant operations. After his chef demo at the San Francisco Chipotle Cultivate Food Festival we discussed his nontraditional workdays at Chipotle, the challenges of using fresh ingredients, and the importance of thinking beyond the food being served.
POPSUGAR: What does your typical day look like?
Nate Appleman: My day changes every day. I work a lot on developing ShopHouse and seeing it to market. I'm personally involved in hiring the crew, the managers, looking at the food cost numbers, and developing the menu. I spend a lot of time on that. But I spend a lot of time on Chipotle. It's constantly changing, because we use real ingredients, and real ingredients change. It's not like other restaurants or companies that have a formula. We don't cook by formula; we cook by ingredients. We're constantly evaluating tomatoes, seeing how they change, and if there is a problem, fixing it.
PS: What's your favorite aspect of your job?
NA: There is no monotony to it. I never know what the day will bring, because it changes all the time. I love that. In a restaurant, when you become a chef, you stand on the line and expedite tickets every single day. I don't like that and don't want to do that. I want something new, exciting, and fresh. I want to be cooking, creating, and doing. I get that opportunity.
PS: What unusual challenges have come up?
NA: The big challenge with Chipotle and ShopHouse is we're a big company. We have really strong beliefs about the ingredients that we're using and the accessibility and availability of those ingredients is hard. For a small, independent restaurant it's easy. You go to the farmers market, you pick up the food, and you're using great stuff. Well, we try to do that on a large scale. We have almost 1,500 restaurants.
Chipotle's not just making burritos; for a couple of years now, it's also been serving Asian-inspired meals with sustainable ingredients under the Washington DC-based concept known as ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, and at this past week's Cultivate Festival, Chipotle offered San Franciscans a taste. The concept, which currently has one location only, offers build-your-own bowls with a variety of elements, from noodles and rice to stir-fried vegetables and crushed peanuts. To learn more about the ShopHouse philosophy, expansion plans, and our tasting notes, keep reading.
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.