Orlando Style sits down with The Next Iron Chef Competitor and Chopped judge, Amanda Freitag to discuss food allergies, cooking secrets and her newest cookbook, The Chef Next Door.
During her visit to Orlando for Epcot’s food & Wine Fest, Chef Amanda Freitag took the time to share advice and swap recipes with us before hitting the stage for a cooking demonstration. Amanda was a guest chef at the Food & Wine Fest on behalf of Mylan, one of the world’s leading global pharmaceutical companies. Mylan’s mission since 2014, together with Disney, has been to educate families about the importance of preparation in the face of a life-threatening allergic reaction and to enhance access to epinephrine, the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.
Orlando Style: What was the inspiration for your most recent cookbook, The Chef Next Door?
Amanda Freitag: The inspiration was sort of a love letter in admiration to the home cook. Recently I discovered cooking in my home kitchen in between restaurant projects and just how hard it was. Without a team of chefs, a pile of pots and pans and a stainless steel habitat it’s hard to cook. On the flip-side, what I always tell people about restaurant cooking is that it’s in parts and pieces. You never touch the meal from beginning to end. Everyone has their job and nobody touches every part of one meal like you do at home when you cook. It was an eye opener to me. So, when writing my book, I decided to do what I normally do. And that is to do all the prep first – which is something I really wanted to teach the home cook. Don’t start cooking until you’ve read all the directions and have all the ingredients prepared. Because once all the preparation is done, it’s just cooking. And cooking is no big deal. The recipe is just a guideline, that’s what I always say. I want people to take my recipes and to make twists. I would love it if people reading my book would take instagram pictures of what they’ve changed my recipes to or what my recipes look like in their kitchen.
OS: When creating the recipes for your cookbook, how did you deal with your personal allergy?
AF: Well, I have a hazelnut allergy, so much like the restaurants and locations that I cook and work in, there’s nothing in the book that contains hazelnuts. There are also a lot of recipes that are dairy and gluten free. My oldest niece has Celiac Disease, which means she can’t eat gluten and my brother is also gluten free. Many of the recipes in my book are dishes that we might cook for holidays that they would attend and so I made sure to keep them allergen free. I find that I tend to cook recipes that don’t contain gluten because I’ve just naturally learned to cook without it and other allergens. My youngest niece can’t eat eggs and so my brother has been making delicious dishes that are completely egg-free and I just thought, I don’t need to lean on the same old recipes because they’re easy. Every day I discover new ways to cook some of my favorite dishes to accommodate those who can’t eat many of the foods that these recipes call for. Food is a very social thing, you shouldn’t be cast out because you can’t eat what everybody else can.
OS: How does your cookbook differ from others on the market?
AF: I like to think of it as the anti-cookbook cookbook. It doesn’t have master ingredient, pantry or equipment lists. The whole idea of this book is that you can buy the ingredients you need and cook right away. In my kitchen I have one pasta pot, one skillet and a wooden spoon. All the great equipment is at the restaurant. You can cook all of my recipes with the most basic equipment. Sometimes kitchens are ill-equipped and poorly designed and you the cook have to work around that obstacle. It’s okay if you don’t have the same pan I do or if you don’t like some of the ingredients I use in a specific recipe. Substitution and experimentation is encouraged.
OS: Would you say you’re a measurer?
AF: Well that’s the big reveal, chef’s don’t read recipes. We have our techniques and we know recipes but we aren’t big measurers or readers. I wanted so much to make recipes like that – a little more rogue than the recipes in my book. But, any question that might come up, we tried to answer so the recipes in my book are much more thorough than they might normally be.
OS: What would you say your favorite recipe in your cookbook is?
AF: That’s a hard one! There are a lot of recipes in here and my dad is no longer with us so I’ve included two of his recipes in my cookbook. Pop’s Beer Braised Beef Stew and Angel Food Cake are two recipes that are very special to me. He was meticulous about measuring and he loved the science of pastry.
Amanda Freitag, who partnered with Mylan to present allergen-free foods to Epcot Food & Wine enthusiasts, actually cooked a recipe from her most recent book during her demonstration. The Eggplant Caponata, served over a Chickpea Pancake was the perfect balance of sweet and salty – and a delicious addition to Epcot’s Food & Wine Fest!
Many of the delectable dishes found in The Chef Next Door are free of the top eight food allergens: dairy, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Amanda’s best advice to those with food allergies is that more information is better, especially when dining out. A one-minute conversation allows you to relax and enjoy your dinner without worrying about your food allergy.