Amanda Cohen

Review: Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

Amanda Cohen Dirt CandyAmanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, an all-vegetable restaurant located in New York City’s East Village that is recommended by the Michelin guide. Cohen, who has written about food for Saveur, Eater, Salon, and Esquire, was the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.  That’s where our paths first crossed.

Amanda’s approach to her all-vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy is based on her motto, “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to professionals.”  In case you haven’t figured it out yet Cohen is an individual.  She doesn’t fit into most people’s molds.  She’s an original.

Take for instance her first cookbook.  Dirt Candy: A Cookbook is more than just a cookbook.  It is also a Amanda Cohen Dirt Candygraphic novel (smart people talk for comic book) about how she built her groundbreaking New York City eatery into one of the toughest reservations in the Big Apple.

The overall feel of Cohen’s opus is cool and fun.  Telling her story in the form of a graphic novel (with the help of artist Ryan Dunlavey and her husband Grady Hendrix) is very interesting.  This would be a wonderful book to share with a child but don’t kid yourself, Cohen’s recipes are far from childish.  They are innovative and whimsical recipes like her Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with Horseradish Cream Sauce or the Zucchini Ginger Cake with Zucchini Cream and Zucchini Candy.

Where’s “Next Iron Chef Winner” Jose Garces?

On January 17th of this year, Jose Garces made his debut as the newest Iron Chef.  His lofty title was achieved by winning the second Next Iron Chef competition.  On the night where he made his triumphant ascension into Kitchen Stadium’s “veritable pantheon of culinary giants,” Garces defended his newly claimed regency by defeating Rachel Yang of Seattle’s popular Joule in Battle: Hawaiian moi.  It was May before Garces had another bout, a win over Colorado chef Kelly Liken in Battle: Bleu Cheese.  Garces battled Portalnd’s Naomi Pomeroy in Battle: Truffles in a contest that Pomeroy revealed was actually taped way back in 2009.  Apparently all of Garces battles were filmed then and he has not been back to Kitchen Stadium.

Since then no one outside of Philadelphia has seen hide nor hair of Iron Chef Garces.

Jose Garces on WannabeTVchef.comHe is still listed on the Food Network’s web site as part of their stable of chefs.  There is even a congratulatory note about winning the Next Iron Chef contest.  However, there is no mention in his official Network bio of being an Iron Chef, rather it says that he, “appeared on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.”

Chef Garces’ own media kit also stops short of calling him an Iron Chef but instead saying, “As the winner of The Next Iron Chef, Chef Garces will appear on the upcoming season of Iron Chef America.”  Which of course he has three times. . . before he disappeared.  So the question remains, is he an Iron Chef or not?

If gone, Garces would not be the first Iron Chef to leave the show.  The venerable Wolfgang Puck did a one-and-done as an Iron Chef before “retiring.”  Michael Symon’s inclusion was the result of Mario Batali’s desire to reduce the number of battles he performed so he could concentrate on building his restaurant empire with business partner Joe Bastianich (son of Lydia Bastianich and co-host of MasterChef on Fox).  Emeril Legasse on WannabeTVchef.comBatali has only appeared in one battle since his 2008 match-up against Paul Bartolotta.  That was the special “Super Chefs” battle that pitted Batali and Emeril Legasse against Iron Chef Bobby Flay and White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford.

Garces’ absence from what is still the best TV-based cooking competition might have gone unnoticed if not for the announcement from Food Network in April of this year of a third season of NIC.  Now the blogosphere is buzzing with rumor and conjecture.

Is Batali gone for good?  Is Cat Cora stepping away to spend more time with her growing family?  Is Flay, Symon or Morimoto leaving?  The most popular assumption is that there has been some kind of falling out between the Food Network brass and Chef Garces.  Never one for rumor I went straight to the sources to get answers.

First, I contacted the folks at Garces Restaurant Group and here is what I got from their end:

Bubkis!  Not a single word.

Then I called on Scripps Networks (the parent company of Food Network) and this was their response:

First I got, “We are releasing info on the new season of ‘The Next Iron Chef’ in a few weeks, can I reconnect with you then to answer your questions?”

Then, as promised, I got, “The winner (of The Next Iron Chef 3) joins the ranks of Symon, Bobby Flay, Masahaharu Morimoto, Mario Batali, Cat Cora and Jose Garces and launches into instant fame as a member of the Chairman’s team on Iron Chef America.

“The winner begins their reign as Iron Chef with a heated Iron Chef America battle on Sunday, November 28th at 9pm ET/PT.”

While it didn’t really address all of the questions people have about the future of ICA it does give us a hint as to where we stand on the career of Jose Garces.  Any comments?

Food Network’s web site does list one more battle (also taped in ’09) for Garces set to air in late September but beyond that nothing.  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Michael Symon as well as ICA challengers, Amanda Cohen and Maria Hines.  Also learn more about Next Iron Chef 3 HERE.

Be sure you check back each Sunday for the NIC Recap.

ICA: Morimoto vs. Cohen

Just two more episodes left of season 8 of Iron Chef America.  Still no sign of the newest Iron Chef, Jose Garces.  Perhaps that is why the Network is ready to kick off another season of the Next Iron Chef in a few weeks.  But that is neither here nor there.

Amanda Cohen on WannabeTVchef.comThis week kitchen stadium is visited by New York’s Amanda Cohen.  A vegetarian chef, Cohen’s motto is, “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to professionals.”  She is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute.  NGI is not a strictly vegetarian cooking school as they do have classes on eggs, poultry and seafood, but there are no mammals in their curriculum.

Since receiving her degree from NGI, Cohen has labored in several of New York City’s vegetarian restaurants.  She has done a little time as a teaching assistant at Angelica’s Kitchen which has specialized in organically grown plant-based cuisine for over 25 years.  But it was at Spanish Harlem’s DinerBar that she gained notoriety, oddly enough for her Buffalo Wings.  When pop star Moby decided that he wanted to open a vegetarian tea room he picked Cohen as the first chef at Teany.

Cohen has since worked at a number of vegetarian eateries culminating with her own restaurant, Dirt Candy.  Cohen’s restaurant has since been named “Best Vegetarian Restaurant in NYC” by amNew York and L Magazine, voted “Best Vegan Restaurant in NYC” by Citysearch readers and the Village Voice singled it out for “Best Grits in NYC.”

Amanda Cohen enters Kitchen Stadium having proven herself a star in the vegan counter culture.  But the question that remains is can she go blow for blow with Iron Chef Morimoto armed with a menu full of side dishes?

Well, the Chairman took care of that by banning the use of meat, poultry and seafood.  So the judges (Melanie Mannarino, Jeffrey Steingarten and Kelly Hu) got to sample ten said dishes.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Chef Amanda Cohen.

Click HERE for the outcome.

ICA: Morimoto vs. Cohen – Outcome

iron chef america, wannabe tv chef

SPOILER ALERT: The following information is the outcome of Morimoto vs. Cohen. If you want information on the combatants click HERE. If you are only interested in the outcome read on.

The judges for Battle Broccoli were Melanie Mannarino, Jeffrey Steingarten and Kelly Hu.  The Chairman also required that all dishes contain no meat, poultry or seafood.

Morimoto              Cohen
Taste: 26               Taste: 24
Plating: 14              Plating: 10
Originality: 14         Originality: 11
Total: 54                Total: 45

Winner: Iron Chef Morimoto

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Chef Amanda Cohen.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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