This week on ‘The Next Iron Chef’ the four surviving contestants left the sunny skies of Los Angeles for Japan, which is the home of the original ‘Iron Chef’ series. This time the culinary masters faced challenges based on Japanese culture and customs. For the final challenge, the chefs were given the difficult task cooking five dishes featuring rice in some capacity and reflecting the five essential of salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami.
Each chef had their fair share of stumbles and successes in their dishes. However, it was Chef Amanda Freitag who ultimately was cut from the competition. She talked with us on Monday about what tool she’ll make sure to bring on her next trip to Japan, cooking in a foreign kitchen, and a woman’s advantage on competitive cooking shows.
What was going through your mind while you were sitting there with Chef Mullen in the bottom two?
Well, I knew it wasn’t him [laughs]. I knew it wasn’t him and I also thought to myself, “What a good place to go out.” I mean it was so beautiful there, that space that we were in and Tokyo. If I’m going to leave, this is a good time to go.
The guest judge, Yukio Hattori, really enjoyed your sticky rice with fruit and sour-Japanese blue fish dishes. He actually called them, “Delicious” and “Amazing.”
I was really excited when I left the judges’ table after all those positive comments. I guess it was probably a close call.
I thought his opinion would’ve had more weight on the judge’s table in your favor.
I think it probably did have a lot of weight. I also think at that point with the final four, the judges — knowing all of us and kind of weighing what we had been through from day one to now — maybe saw that this wasn’t my best showing. So I think they knew me better than he did. But I was happy with the way I went out.
You didn’t have a huge disaster in the kitchen? Did you have any unseen problems with the equipment?
I just couldn’t get the coconut can to open [laughs]. I’ll bring a can opener to Tokyo next time I go.
What was the problem you had in the kitchen while making a cream for one of your dishes?
What was hard in that kitchen is that a lot of us hadn’t cooked in it and a lot of the equipment was unfamiliar and not what we had wanted. There wasn’t a lot to go around. So I picked this one pot that was really thin bottomed and the cream burnt. So I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to let this throw me off.” So I started over and got back on track.
How hard was it to try to adapt to this new location?
If they had said cook a dish that you’re familiar with in this kitchen, it still would’ve been hard. That kitchen was some place that none of us had ever been. Working with rice cookers that had no English on them [laughs]. Even the fish, the product, it was all different things that you know we had never even seen before. It was fun and cool to have with all that stuff — but to have only 90 minutes to play with it and to have a restricted menu — it was really hard.
In the first challenge you had trouble in that kitchen as well. You said something like, “This kitchen wasn’t built for me.”
“For a large German-American girl” is what I said [laughs]. Putting Chef Mehta would’ve fine in that kitchen, or two Chef Mehtas, but me and him in that kitchen — I mean it was tiny! It was hard. As we started to move around it was like, okay, this is not good. You could tell we were playing Twister in there.
You were the last woman standing and now there are all men in the final three. Men seem to dominate these reality cooking competitions. Why do you think that is?
I think there’s a lot less of us. As you see we started out with 10 contestants and there were only three women. So you look at that ratio and if you break that down, it’s less than half. So the chances — statistically — are going to be a lot slimmer for a woman to win or come in on the finals. I think women do really well in these competitions, because they are a little calmer. They don’t let a lot of ego get in the way as much, and they’re just doing their thing. I think it’s just statistics and ratios.