Talking Travel With Top “Chopped” Chef Amanda Freitag

Born and raised in New Jersey, chef, author, and television star Amanda Freitag has become a culinary maven. Following her graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, Amanda worked in a diverse mix of restaurants in New York City, including Jean-George Vongerichten’s Vong, Verbena, Il Buco, Cesca, and The Harrison, running the culinary gamut of Mediterranean, Italian and Classic American. She sharpened her skills through world travel, including working under Chef Alain Passard in Paris, and continued expanding her culinary expertise into a variety of international cuisines.

Outside of the restaurant business, Amanda has become a household name for her work both on and off the television screen. She is well known for being a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and has appeared on “Iron Chef America,” “Next Iron Chef,” “Unique Eats,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” Guy Fieri’s “Tournament of Champions,” and many more.

Her mission to make cooking more approachable inspired the creation of her cookbook “The Chef Next Door,” her set of five unique spice blends, a collection of ready-to-pour bottled cocktails, and other ongoing culinary projects. Amanda has also earned notoriety on social media for her tutorial series “EasyAF,” where she shows audiences that delicious food can be fun and simple to make in the comfort of your own home.

She granted me a phone interview all about her travels, which was peppered with lots of laughs indicating the bubbly personality that she is known for.

What is your favorite travel destination?

I’m traveling to Italy soon and Bologna is one of my favorite food cities. Going to Mexico, I have had an amazing experience in Oaxaca – I didn’t think I would fall in love with it the way that I did – and so much more. Those two stand out for me. These are my top two favorites.

Where did you honeymoon?

If I had one, it would be Turks and Caicos and St. John. I love the Caribbean….it’s sexy and romantic……I’m not married.

What was your best vacation ever?

I never take vacations – I travel for work and I tack on a few days here and there…….my most amazing work trips: In 2019 some trips blew my mind – Israel , Jordan – I just loved both of them and would go back in a heartbeat. Definitely some relaxation moments like floating in the Dead Sea, and going to Petra. And the food. And the people. It has all the spots – the food, the sites, the life experiences.

What is the best thing you ever ate while traveling?

An internship at Arpege in Paris, which is a multi-starred Michelin – I don’t even know how many Michelin stars it has now…..I went in 2000…they have three stars (Note: she just looked it up), and they have now changed their menus to all-vegetable. What blew me away was an entire frog, roasted like a quail – it was so memorable. Dessert? I am such a sweet-tooth girl – honestly, there is always time and place for me – when I went to Jojo’s in New York in the Nineties and ate the warm chocolate cake – nothing was the same after that. Now it’s been made a million times.

What is your favorite restaurant in the world, and why.

Of course, the most mind-blowing was Noma –how do you get any better than that? (Note: It’s in Copenhagen and is said to be the world’s best restaurant). I have eaten there multiple times – they had a vegetable menu and I went to the Noma pop-up in Mexico in the forest. It was the experience.

Do you typically fly first-class or private jet?

If I have anything to do with it, I fly first-class and hit the ground running. I have Diamond status with Delta – I really like it – United comes in second with my miles. My 2023 goal is to fly private one or two times.

What airline loyalty plans do you belong – what is your favorite?

I belong to Delta, then I have United, American and Jet Blue.

What hotel chains/brands do you prefer?

I would pick a Four Seasons any day – I’ve had such great experiences – I had a great experience at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (Hawaii) – the hospitality was beyond reproach. I went with my boyfriend on his birthday – they treated him like a king – he had passion fruit every morning, and they sent a chocolate-passion-fruit cake to the room. We loved the cotton robes – and they gave us one each upon leaving. Just the setting of the hotel and grounds, and food – I can’t think of anything that wasn’t perfect. Other Four Seasons’ in the country are just as beautiful. Was just at Philadelphia Four Seasons – it was jaw-dropping. I’m also a Kimpton girl – they are impressive.

What brand of luggage is your favorite?

Rimowa – I have four pieces and it’s because I travel a lot, I’m rough on the luggage, and they have a lifetime guarantee. Sometimes they fix it or just give me a new piece. They have beautiful colors and styles. I love it – and they’re light! I recommend that luggage to everybody, and it’s very recognizable. They make a silver one that looks like a James Bond attache case. I’m brand loyal on that.

What’s the best souvenir you have ever bought in your travels?

I love to buy clothes when I’m somewhere – “This is my Italian shirt.” I illegally brought home a gallon of olive oil from Israel – it was pressed right then and there, and pure, and it was like drinking liquid gold. That was a chef souvenir. I went to White Sands, New Mexico – it’s like stepping onto another planet – the wildest place I’ve been so far – it’s almost disorienting – nothing but rolling hills and white sand that sparkles. I scooped up some sand and brought it home – it’s in a jar. It reminds me of somewhere “The Little Prince” would wind up. It’s special to me. I also have a tradition that I get my Mom a magnet from everywhere I go.

What is always in your carryon suitcase?

I have it all – an apple, hand sanitizer, gum – always, I’m a gum chewer (even though Oprah doesn’t like it – she says everyone looks bad chewing gum), essential oil in lavender and peppermint (for freshening up and headaches), and handy dandy brush/comb and it always comes in handy to freshen up – it’s a comb on one end and a brush on the other – and lots of chargers. And my favorite scarf from Bali – it can also be a shawl – it’s almost like my security blanket. I can put it over my head or over my nose if there’s a bad odor– it has multi-uses.

What do you always order from Room Service?

Breakfast. Always. Whatever the healthiest egg dish is – omelette with veggies, or egg white, fruit, and a big pot of coffee. I’m a breakfast girl and nothing makes me happier than having someone deliver breakfast to my door.

What beauty/health/wellness items do you always take with you on your travels?

I swear by Charlotte Tilbury Wonder Light moisturizing foundation – when you wear it, it looks like you’ve slept for 15 hours – it HAS to be in my bag at all times – Charlotte Tilbury will change your life. I also have probably four or five ChapStick – I always, always, always have ChapStick or a Burt’s Bees. I am constantly using ChapStick. I also wear a Nars lip gloss – a peachy pink color. I really do. I always have one somewhere in my bag.

How do you stay so fit and trim when you travel?

I have the help of many people who hold me accountable, including my Pilates teacher Kim Villanueva – she and I will log on and do virtual class. I log onto Walter Kemp and we do cardio, I try to tell them, “I’m going away and won’t want to work out,” but I did a Pilates class on the floor between the bed and the desk at the hotel. And I walk a lot.

If you were stranded on an island, what is the one piece of food you would take, which you could munch on endlessly? And what is the one luxury item you would bring with you?

Pizza! Can I take an entire pizza with me? A standard Joe’s New York City pizza. In the West Village. I can eat pizza cold, I can eat it 24/7.

Luxury item? I love luxury – my Four Seasons pillows – I got them after staying at the hotel…..they are my favorite pillows – my neck never bothers me anymore,. It’s quite the luxury item. They were expensive. (Note: A down-and feather-pillow costs about $175.) My mom bought me two and I bought two more. I spend all my money on food and travel. I don’t buy clothes, shoes, or bags…..To spend money on pillows is unusual for me but it’s paid off in many, many good night’s sleeps.

For more about my Wanderlust and Wellness travels, please Follow me on Instagram at @DebbiKickham.

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