Food News

On the pass: Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy

The New York chef on angry vegetables, competing in Iron Chef and her unique wine list.

By Lee Tran Lam
Your New York restaurant, Dirt Candy, is well known for its creative plant-based dishes. Has there been a vegetable that you found really hard to work with?
A swede is basically an angry sweet potato that's really bitter unless you roast it for a ridiculously long time. But vegetables are like Pokémon and I wanted to catch them all, so I wound up roasting it, pickling it, and also turning it into a fluffy mousse to make a swede cake. It was delicious.
You were in Australia for the first time for the Gourmet Escape festival. What did you cook at the event?
Some of our classic dishes, like the super-silky portobello mousse that I've been serving since Dirt Candy opened its doors.
You appeared on the American and Canadian versions of Iron Chef, but I suspect owning a restaurant is much tougher than competing on a TV show, right?
Running a restaurant is harder, because a TV show ends. In a restaurant, you can have the toughest service of your career, but the next morning you still need to put on your big-girl pants and show up for work. Strangely, running Dirt Candy for 10 years has given me an unfair advantage on cooking competitions like Iron Chef.
Tell us about your wine list, which features female winemakers only.
My sommelier, Lauren Friel, came up with the idea and I loved it. Women don't get the same press coverage that men do in the food and beverage business, and so I wanted to do my tiny part. I love Marine Leys' organic winery, La Vignereuse, but I also adore the wine from Domaine Oudin, run by Nathalie, the daughter of its founders, and then there's Cathy Corison, who rules Napa Valley, and Vanya Cullen in Margaret River.
Is there a vegetable grower you enjoy working with?
I believe in working with the vegetables anyone can get at the grocery store. Farms are fun, but often farm-to-table gives the impression that you have to have magical vegetables grown by fancy elves to make them taste good. Mine come to me the same way yours do: in a box, off a truck. Vegetables don't have to be rare or expensive to be good. We just have to think about cooking them differently.