Judges on the Chopping Block: We Chat With the Round 3 Runner-Up
The tables have been turned. Tonight four judges-turned-competitors, Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy and Scott Conant, tried their hands at cracking the code on the mystery ingredients in the infamous Chopped baskets. Only one advanced to compete in the third spot in the finale, one step closer to winning $50,000 for his or her charity.
If you missed the show and recorded it, don’t read any further — FN Dish is about to break down the episode and chat with the runner-up.
Dessert: Ruby port, olive oil gelato, dried apricots and French toast sticks
Judges: Aarón Sánchez, Geoffrey Zakarian and Marcus Samuelsson
Chopped judge and All-Stars veteran Amanda Freitag cooked her way to the dessert round against three of her fellow judges and good friends: Marc Murphy, Alex Guarnaschelli and Scott Conant. She wowed everyone by closing out her meal with profiteroles, a Chopped Kitchen first. Despite Amanda’s impressive effort on behalf of her charity, God’s Love We Deliver, Scott irked out a win on the strength of his overall meal. FN Dish talked with Amanda to get the talented runner-up’s take on this intense round of the All-Stars tournament.
Did you feel like your previous All-Stars competition gave you a bit of an edge? Were you more prepared this time?
AF: I felt a little more prepared, but every time you go in there with the clock and the baskets, you never know what’s going to happen. It could be your first time; it could be your hundredth.
Was there any basket ingredient today that you had never worked with before?
AF: No. Every ingredient I had previous experience with. I think all the baskets were really fair and really wonderful little gifts. The frozen French toast was a little evil. I think it was an inside joke.
AF: Ironically, I really loved my capon. It just couldn’t beat Scotty’s.
AF: Probably the appetizer round. Everybody was really nervous; getting it done in 20 minutes is just really hard. We had to deal with the diver scallops — shuck them, clean them. That was a lot of labor for the first round. Then you had to make a plate. It was a lot. We all went in not knowing what to expect and it was a challenge. They were just warming us up with that basket.
In the dessert round, Geoffrey said you’d upstaged the souffles and commended you for making profiteroles for the first time in the Chopped Kitchen. Did you have that idea in your back pocket going in to dessert?
AF: I had a few basic desserts in mind that I’m comfortable with and they’re all very different. There were not a lot of ideas that were going to fit with that basket because there was already premade ice cream, already the premade French toast. I truly wanted to make ice cream no matter what I did. I thought a profiterole was a great way to encase everything in one little vehicle.
You said you’re looking forward to having your own dining room again soon. Do you think anything from today would ever end up on your menu?
AF: I may have profiteroles on my menu! I also loved the combinations on the scallops — the harissa with the buttery scallop; the speck with the grapefruit.
Scott said from the first round you were the one to beat for him. Who among the four was the one to beat for you?
AF: I definitely thought Alex was going to be somebody that I’d have to keep my eye on. She has a lot of practice competing as of late. She’s a fierce competitor; she knows her way around that kitchen, and she knows her way around lots of different styles of food. She’s got tons of experience and that makes a big difference. And I love her food, as well.
You haven’t won one of these yet. Are you going to keep at it? Do you enjoy competing?
AF: You know what? The adrenaline is pretty intense. When it first starts happening, I think, “Why am I doing this?” But I am not going to give up. If an opportunity comes my way to compete, I’m going to continue to compete. I’m just lucky to have the opportunity to do so. It’s an interesting forum; it’s not something that everybody gets a chance to do, and I think you grow after every competition you do.
You all know each other so well on All-Stars — both the chefs judging you and your fellow competitors. Do you think it makes it more of a friendly competition or even more intense?
AF: I think it makes it harder. A lot of anguish in the room! I remember two years ago when I first competed on All-Stars, this had never happened before. I remember looking into Alex’s eyes as she was beginning to give me criticism about a plate and it was just painful. It was much more painful to sit there and judge. Then I had the experience to judge on the next season of All-Stars and I understood it. It has come back around and I still think it’s just as hard. They had a tough decision and I did not envy them. At the end point in the day, Scott and I both felt really good and no matter what happens, we’re really cool with it. Scott did it, got it under his belt — he was avoiding this for a long time. And I had a goal of getting into the dessert round and I got there. I made something that I was proud of.