On Tuesday, September 22nd, The Culinary Institute of America at Copia, in Napa, CA, christened their kitchen demo theater with a demo and book signing with Amanda Freitag. I was fortunate to score an invite, meet Amanda and take some behind the scenes photos. It took all my self-control not to completely fan out! I think celebrity chefs are so much cooler than other celebrities and it was a bucket list honor to watch her cook and to eat her food!
For those non-foodies, Amanda Freitag is an award-winning New York chef, a celebrity chef on several Food Network shows including my person favorite, Chopped, and now a cookbook author.
Freitag was introduced at the event by Traci Dutton, the CIA’s Sommelier, who gave us some insight into what’s to come at their new downtown Napa location. The stunning building will host a full restaurant, with head chef Sandy Sauter, a retail shop with cookware and linens, cooking classes, an amphitheater for private events, public concerts, and weddings. The retail shop and restaurant will feature products made, grown, and produced by locals.
Chef Freitag is a CIA Hyde Park graduate and was sincerely enthusiastic about being the christening chef in the new kitchen theater. Freitag is hands down, the nicest, most humble food celebrity I have ever met. And her teaching methods are so approachable and she puts beginners like me at ease much like Remy, the rat in Ratatouille who learns from Chef Gusteau that “anyone can cook!” She began her presentation by leveling the field, stating that cooking at home is hard and admitted it can be intimidating: “You have to shop, schlep, prep, cook, clean and serve! It’s a lot of work!” She also encouraged us not to shy away from foods that are ‘scary that you may not bring home from the grocery store.
Chef prepared one of her favorite recipes from her book, The Chef Next Door; ‘Duck Breast with Pint Nut Relish’. I consider myself a brave home chef, yet I’ve never cooked with duck before, I was eager to observe and learn a duck recipe to try. I couldn’t believe how easy she made it seem! Needless to say, Amanda’s demonstration inspired me to go to my local fine foods grocer and find some really nice cuts of duck breast for some home experimentation. One of the coolest things I learned from Amanda was her tip on cooking protein. She showed us how to score the fat on the breast, the importance of starting with a hot pan, and the discipline to LEAVE IT ALONE! For some reason, many home cooks have a habit of shaking the pan around, stirring the sauce constantly, and flipping the meat on the grill over and over. According to Chef Freitag, this isn’t benefiting us in any way! Amanda told us to “use your senses for everything.” Your nose will smell when the fat is rendering, your ears will hear the sizzle calm down when it’s about time to flip and your eyes will see the edges begin to lift.
I was relieved to discover that Chef Amanda eats throughout her whole cooking process like I do. And not just to taste test, but because we love to eat! Yes, tasting as you go is so important, but so is snacking. In fact, she even mentioned she used to eat straight mirepoix during her CIA classes because she was working so hard and starving! It is these personal human experiences she shares that puts her audience at ease.
After cooking the duck, Freitag invited her guest, Chef Vera Eisenberg to show the audience how to make her famous strudel dough. Eisenberg is the queen of strudel and even joked that on the cover of her first cookbook she wants to be “naked and wrapped in a strudel dough.” Her personality was magnetic and her sense of humor was well-developed. Eisenberg decided to change career paths later in life and went back to school to study Culinary Arts in 1999, where she interned with Freitag and the two became great friends.
I was able to sit front row and shoot some footage of Amanda and Vera stretching the dough paper thin “until you can read your recipe through it.” Everyone in the audience got to taste the Roasted Duck and Vera’s Hungarian Cabbage & Apple Strudel. There was a short question and answer portion at the end where audience members asked Amanda about tips on purchasing high-quality kitchenware that won’t leave you broke, and about her favorite moments from being a judge on Chopped.
Everyone was able to purchase a copy of Amanda’s book and get it signed at the end. As the first event in the new location, it was a huge success. The lighting, acoustics, and seating are ideal for this kind of intimate food demonstration and it allows the audience to connect with the professionals. Personally, I cannot wait to attend another class at the new CIA Copia.