Growing up in New Jersey, Amanda Freitag’s passion for food was fostered by everyone from her grandparents to her high school home economics teacher. Today Amanda Freitag has emerged as one of New York City’s most celebrated chefs.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, Amanda’s first position in a New York City kitchen was as rotissier and garde manger at Vong in 1993, under the guidance of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In 1994, Amanda started working with her mentor and friend Diane Forley at Verbena, where she rose quickly through the ranks to become the restaurant’s chef de cuisine. It was while she was at Verbena that Amanda realized how much she had yet to learn about the culinary world, and so in 1999 she traveled extensively through France and Italy to explore markets and restaurants. While in Paris, she spent two weeks working in the kitchen of the venerable Arpege restaurant under chef Alain Passard.
Amanda came back to New York where she worked at some of the city’s most popular restaurants including Cesca, where she cooked alongside Tom Valenti as his chef de cuisine and earned two stars from The New York Times. Most recently, Amanda was the executive chef at Gusto in the West Village, where she received both critical and popular acclaim.
In late 2007, Amanda was looking for an opportunity to show her versatility as a chef. Jimmy Bradley’s search for a new chef at The Harrison and Amanda’s desire to try something new could not have been better timed, and the two chefs’ shared passion for bold, straightforward cooking made this a natural fit. Since Freitag’s arrival, The Harrison has received numerous accolades from local and national media, including a two-star review from The New York Times, as well as features in Time Out New York, New York Magazine and Forbes Life. Amanda recently battled Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America and has a recurring role as a judge on the new Food Network series, Chopped. This Fall she will grace the Food Network stage again and compete for the title of America’s Next Iron Chef.
Acclaimed chef John Besh grew up hunting and fishing in Southern Louisiana, learning at an early age the essentials of Louisiana’s rich culinary traditions. “With all the cultural influences in Louisiana,” he says, “it’s an exciting place to learn about food.” And he should know: years later, fortunate enough to have traveled and studied the world over, Besh has set the benchmark for fine dining in New Orleans, one of the world’s most esteemed restaurant cities – and he is still learning, growing, and refining his work at the forefront of his industry.
His talent and drive have earned Besh critical kudos from the outset of his career: in 1999, Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America.” In 2003, Gourmet magazine included August in its “Guide to America’s Best Restaurants,” and in 2006, it cited August as one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants. In 2005, Chef Besh received a nomination for a James Beard Award, and in 2006, he won the Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast. Also that year, he defeated Chef Mario Batali on Iron Chef America on The Food Network, scoring a victory in the andouille sausage battle. The 2007 Zagat Guide rated August #1 in New Orleans for both Food and Service. Also in 2007, Chef Besh was selected to compete in Food Network’s Next Iron Chef, succeeding in every challenge, and finishing as runner-up in Kitchen Stadium. Rounding out the year, he and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis were selected portraits of creative visionaries whose passion for what they do has transformed our culture in the third season of the original series Iconoclasts on the Sundance Channel.
Besh received his formal training at the Culinary Institute of America. His love of classical cooking styles, together with his “born on the Bayou” Creole heritage, drew him to Europe for further culinary exploration and training. In the Black Forest region of Germany, Besh experienced his first exposure to truly localized cuisine, a concept that remains essential to his cooking and menu development. Local farmers and artisans would bring their choicest goods directly to the Michelin-starred restaurant where he worked; brook trout were caught live and kept fresh in the cold stream running deep below the centuries-old building. He also spent time in the south of France refining his classical sensibilities, while the flavorful stews and roasts of the region informed his understanding of his own native cuisine, the Creole cooking of southern Louisiana. The young chef’s early career was interrupted when, as a noncommissioned officer of the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he was called upon to lead a squad of infantry Marines in combat during Operation Desert Storm.
Besh’s appreciation for local ingredients and local cuisine has only increased since Hurricane Katrina, as he considers these essential to the survival of the peoples and cultural heritage of New Orleans. No one is more keenly aware of the fragility of the region’s culinary traditions. The immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina found Chef Besh in a rowboat, looking for staff members in the flooded streets of New Orleans. With his wife and four young sons evacuated safely to North Carolina, he remained focused on his other family – his restaurant team. Within days, Besh was serving red beans and rice to relief workers. He flew to Washington, DC to participate in “Po’Boy Power!” – an event organized by fellow chefs that raised over $27,000 in just one two-hour stretch, one po’boy at a time.
In addition to getting his own restaurants, the elegant contemporary August and chic Besh Steak, up-and-running as soon as possible after the storm, he was also instrumental in rebuilding other establishments such as Willie Mae’s Scotch House, one of the city’s venerated culinary landmarks in the ninth ward.
With his friend and business partner Octavio Mantilla, he acquired the charming and rustic La Provence in Lacombe, Louisiana from his late mentor, legendary Chef Chris Kerageorgiou; and also opened Lüke, a brasserie in the grand New Orleans tradition, a cultural legacy that Besh could not allow to slip away. All the while, he has been the energetic spokesman for the Louisiana Seafood Council, as well as a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance; and a Board Member of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Besh is active in a state promotional program created by Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, who tapped the chef to prepare meals with the media in an effort to showcase the cuisine of Louisiana.
In Americas’s oldest fine dining city, this boy from the bayou has built a thriving restaurant group. Each venture reflects his broad-ranging culinary passions, benefits from his dedication to local products, and – though his palate has taken him around the world – celebrates the multi-faceted cuisine of his beloved southern Louisiana.
executive chef, restaurateur, legend
THE NAME WOLFGANG PUCK IS SYNONYMOUS WITH THE BEST OF RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY AND THE ULTIMATE IN ALL ASPECTS OF THE CULINARY ARTS. THE FAMOUS CHEF HAS BUILT A GASTRONOMIC EMPIRE THAT ENCOMPASSSES THREE SEPARATE WOLFGANG PUCK ENTITIES: WOLFGANG PUCK FINE DINING GROUP, WOFLGANG PUCK CATERING, AND WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC.
NOTE FROM HOST, CESLIE ARMSTRONG: Wolfgang Puck's long and important career, impact on the culinary arts, hospitality, and entertainment industry are too numerous to list here. Please visit his really FUN and informative web site for more!