Monday, June 17, 2024

Chef Amanda Freitag Talks Culinary Diplomacy, Freitag Cocktails And Meeting Wayne Newton

Amanda Freitag is a seasoned chef, television personality, and author of her own cookbook. Born and raised in New Jersey, Freitag attended culinary school and then began working in restaurants around New York City. She even trained under Chef Alain Passard in Paris, winner of three Michelin stars. Freitag has been a judge on Chopped and appeared on competitive culinary shows like Iron Chef America, Unique Eats, Bobby Flay, and many more. 

Amanda currently has a restaurant, Empire Diner, in New York City where she serves classic diner meals with refined ingredients and crafted cocktails. She also has a digital series called “EasyAF,” encouraging and teaching the average American how to cook amazing meals right in their own kitchen. In stores, you can find her cookbook “The Chef Next Door” and her new line of bottled Freitag Cocktails. 

We love the Freitag Cocktails and they will be the perfect drinks for any New Year’s Eve celebrations big or small.

After concocting some of her favorite cocktail and food pairings at the Bourbon and Beyond music festivals culinary stage, we got to chat together. We discussed the nonprofit work Freitag is doing, her apron collaboration, the amazing cocktail line and what it was like meeting performance legend, Wayne Newton. 

Chef Amanda Freitag Talks Freitag Cocktails
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Can you tell me about the Culinary Diplomacy Program you’re involved in? 

Yes. The Culinary Diplomacy Project is a nonprofit organization run by Lauren Bernstein that takes chefs on travels around the world to other countries’ cultures. It’s usually about a week or ten days. We hit the ground running and we meet with other chefs. We go to culinary schools and do cooking demonstrations for kids. We toured the cities and the surrounding areas. We’ll see wineries, cheese dairies, whatever’s local in that region, their specialties. 

I was just in Armenia this year, and Mexico City. I was blown away by Armenia, Yerevan is a beautiful city and the people are incredible. The food was outstanding. Of course, we didn’t speak Armenian. My motto is that the connection through food is priceless, you don’t have to speak the same language. This program actually started with Hillary Clinton. When she was Secretary of State, she believed that a lot happened at the table. 

You know, all the ambassadors and diplomats travel around and they sit down at the table. She really wanted to get it out there to the world that American food is not just hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. We’re still getting it out there, Lauren Bernstein continued the program and we continue to travel. I’ve had some of the best experiences working with that organization since 2014.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What’s going on with your apron collaboration?

The apron is made by a company called Cooks Who Feed. Each apron individually feeds 100 people. They pick hunger charities of their choice. I met Seema Sanghavi, who runs the organization, at a dinner last year and wondered why don’t we just do a collaboration? 

Some of the money goes back to Cooks Who Feed, and then some money goes to God’s Love. It’s a beautiful apron. It’s maroon and it says, “Food is love.” It’s the best gift ever to give to somebody, the foodie in your life. It’s a really great collaboration. It’s all about giving back for me, in that way.

Chef Amanda Freitag Talks Freitag Cocktails
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

You paired a frittata with a Freitag Negroni and chocolate cake with the Freitag Manhattan at Bourbon and Beyond. What are the best drink and food pairings?

Those are two killer pairings. If you want to go simpler with a Negroni, like in Italy, when you order one they’ll give you a bowl of potato chips and a bowl of green olives. It’s all about having that saltiness because the Negroni has bitter and sweet notes and it’s just missing that saltiness, so it rounds it out completely. 

Of course, margaritas have to be paired with tortilla chips and guac. I mean, come on. Is there anything else that goes with margaritas, really? For Manhattans, honestly I think chocolate or anything nutty. You know, fresh cherries or amarena cherries. Anything in that world really goes well with a Manhattan.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Can you blend the Freitag margarita mix? I love frozen margaritas. 

Yes, it’s the perfect margarita to blend because it’s all done. It’s not even a mix, everything’s in there. It’s really just throwing it into the blender with the ice. You could put it with some frozen fruit. The best part is it’s really strong, because usually when I make a frozen drink, I add more alcohol. The Kimpton Angler’s Hotel in Miami, they have a rooftop bar and they run it through their frozen machine and they sell the margarita frozen there.

Chef Amanda Freitag Talks Freitag Cocktails
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Have you found any hidden gems in your travels this year, or places you would go for fun?

Yes, actually, I took a trip at the beginning of the year to Italy for fun. It was with two of my dearest friends. We started in Rome and then we went to Siena and Pienza, and then we ended in Bologna. I’ve been to Rome and Bologna before, but I did discover a couple of really delicious restaurants in Rome that I hadn’t been to. Siena was stunning, just absolutely beautiful. It’s worth the trip. 

Bologna is one of my favorite food cities in Italy, aside from Palermo. It’s all about the mortadella and the prosciutto and the salty meats. No matter what you do here in America to try and recreate what you had there, the pasta is never the same. We try as chefs, we’ve tried and we’re so inspired by Italian cuisine. It’s the water. It’s the flour. Their flour has no additives. It’s all really clean. Even the espresso is better there.

Chef Amanda Freitag Talks Freitag Cocktails
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

I recently got to interview Wayne Newton and I heard you got to meet him as well at Bourbo and Beyond. What was it like?

Meeting Wayne Newton is like taking a trip in the past, you know what I mean? No one is as buttoned up as he is. No one has seen as much as he has. This generation will never understand that kind of professionalism, the hardest working man in show business. For real. That title belongs to him. I was so excited to see him. Then I met him and as I was talking to him, he held both of my hands as we were talking, he’s very engaged with you. 

There’s something very unique about that because I feel that’s a lost art. When you’re engaging with somebody, to really feel like that person is focused on you and nothing else, to me, that makes him a legend.

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Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a writer and photographer who has been traveling for 20 years and flown over 2 million miles to visit over 80 countries on 6 continents. She is a freelance photographer for Invision by Associated Press, AP Images and Rex/Shutterstock. Her work can be seen in various publications and websites including: Rolling Stone, AP Images, National Geographic Books, Fodor’s Travel Guides, Forbes.com, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, JetStar magazine, and Delta Sky Magazine.

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