After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “Hmmm, guilty pleasure? After eating pork brains and gummy bears, I usually crave a cup of mint tea with lemon! But I do have a ‘crunch’ addiction, so if I happen to be hungry after a shoot day, I will grab a bag of really good tortilla chips and dip them into some seasoned sour cream.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “I am not adverse to cooking anything. I do have an allergy to hazelnuts, so I just can’t cook anything with them.”
All-time favorite spice. “Cardamom, if I had to choose. My dad always put a pinch of cardamom in his Christmas sugar cookies and it is such comforting complex spice. I also grind cardamom seeds into my coffee beans every morning, try it, you will thank me!”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “I am currently obsessed with the band Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and their music is ideal to listen to when I cook. Pure happiness.”
Did you grow up cooking as a kid? “I grew up eating a lot! I was a fat kid that was given tons of snacks to keep me busy while my parents were both working. I would always alternate from salty to sweet. I loved being in the kitchen when my grandmother baked but I started cooking in restaurants when I was a teenager.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “For inspiration, I always reach for Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I love Middle-Eastern flavors and there is always something in that book that inspires me. I do still use my Alice Waters’ cookbooks for reference for fruit and vegetable recipe ideas.”
After all these years working in restaurants and judging on hit Food Network show Chopped, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “I like going out to eat in other cities when I am traveling. It is a great way to get to know the city, the local chef vibe and see what is going on outside of the New York culinary scene.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “How cool would it be to cook with Auguste Escoffier? He was the man who taught the world to cook. All my training was based on his cooking. I would like to spend a few days in the kitchen with him.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “The Great Chefs series from PBS. I watched Great Chefs Europe consistently when I was young and I loved it. It was a fantasy world of magical chefs in a faraway land that I wanted to be a part of.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “If I am packing knives, I normally pack small wares like my favorite spoons to cook with or a rubber spatula. You would be shocked to find out how many on-location kitchens don’t have the little things you need.”
Amanda Freitag is the author of The Chef Next Door and can be seen on hit Food Network show Chopped.
Interview has been condensed and edited.