Amy Freeze of Avon Park, Fla., owns Gourmet Everyday (www.gourmeteveryday.net). Who would expect that the woman who has been called “Florida’s Best Iguana-Meat Chef” would run her own gourmet business? Here, Amy tells Florida Food & Farm readers about her “cheffing” abilities — and what happened to her home as a result of her “Night of the Iguana.”
Question: You’re an English teacher by profession. How did you become involved in profess-ional “cheffing”?
Answer: After winning the National Pie Championship in 2013, I qualified for the World Food Championships (WFC) in Las Vegas, where I placed in the Top 10 in Desserts and received an invite to return in 2014. Fast-forward to 2019, and I’m still competing in WFC, and that has given me the opportunity to work professionally as a chef for Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales; as a chef for Walmart through their partnership with WFC; and as a chef/teacher hosting private, in-home cooking classes and private parties.
Q: Tell us about your first kitchen experience.
A: I began cooking, as many chefs do, in my mom and granny’s kitchens. I went to my first cooking class when I was 8 years old, at a University of Florida Extension office with a 4-H Club. As far as my first professional kitchen experience outside of WFC and the Food Network — it would be at Bok Tower Gardens, where I host a series of farm-to-table dinners.
That first dinner in November 2017 was a challenge. We had no real stove or oven. We had two induction cooktops, a gas grill, and the gas burner attached to the grill — and we needed to serve a sold-out crowd of 60 guests plus volunteers. My team, which consisted of my sous chef and about seven high school students, somehow pulled it off and no one had a clue that we’d never fed that many people at one time. (For a few farm-to-table-dinner recipes, visit gourmeteveryday.net/farm-to-table-recipes.)
Q: What three words best describe yourself, and why?
A: Organized: I live by Excel spreadsheets. Even my competition schedule is on a spreadsheet, broken down into 10-minute intervals. Prepared: Again, my spreadsheets are created and revised for months before a competition or an event. Resourceful: There will always be unexpected obstacles and unforeseen problems, so I have to be able to assess, adapt and overcome. Whether we’re in competition and the stove doesn’t work, or at a private party and a recipe ingredient is missing, I have to be able to figure out a solution quickly.
Q: As a chef working in Florida, what do you get most excited about?
A: There are so many phenomenal products and ingredients produced/grown in Florida. I love the opportunity to cook in public and to share the variety of products that are produced/grown in Florida that many people have no idea exist.
Q: Tell us about some of the local farms that you work with, and what they provide to you.
A: I love working with Crown Jewel Farms in Lake Wales for their organic fruits, veggies and eggs; the Frostproof FFA (Future Farmers of America) for a variety of fruits, veggies, and fish from their aquaponics lab; and even Three Daughters Brewing — it’s not a farm, but they work with local farms to produce their beer and cider — for beer and cider that they provide for me to use in recipe creation.
Q: Who has helped you get to the place you are now?
A: Mike McCloud with the World Food Championships for opening my eyes to a world of culinary work and for creating the WFC arena where home cooks can become professional chefs.
John LoScalzo with Loko Cuisine in Tampa for giving me my first catering job, where I provided the desserts for a couple of his brewery dinners at Coppertail Brewing in Tampa.
Q: How would you describe the local chef community – and how are you involved?
A: “Local” doesn’t really exist for me. Yes, I know a few chefs in the area, but my “community” stretches across the country. As a member of the WFC team and pool of chefs and competitors, we have created our own community of support, inspiration and sharing, through social media, competitions and even partnerships.
Q: You once prepared Iguana Carnitas Tacos and have been called “Florida’s Best Iguana-Meat Chef.” Why do you focus on preparing iguanas? Also, do you have an iguana recipe you can share with Florida Food & Farm readers?
A: The Iguana Cookoff started as a joke. Sebring Wholesale Meats, whose owner is a friend of ours, announced that they could now get iguanas, if anyone wanted them. As a joke, I said that we should have a cookoff. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect so many people coming out to taste iguana — and to be honest, I’ve never cooked iguana since. The smell of it cooking in my house is burned into my memory, and sinuses, and it will never be inside my house again! If they ever want to do another cookoff, I’ll do it, but we’re cooking iguanas outside.
The only way I know how to cook iguana came from a student’s mom, who instructed me to boil it down for two to three hours, pick the meat from the “bones,” and then cook that meat even longer. For me, that meant putting it in the crockpot with some mojo criollo and letting it simmer all night. Once at the cookoff, I turned my iguana meat into tacos with a variety of sauces — and shockingly won.
Q: Is there anything on your agenda that we should know about (upcoming competitions, etc.)?
A: The World Food Championships is Oct. 16-21 in Dallas, Texas; and the next season of Bok Tower farm-to-table dinners begins on Oct. 24, with different dinners happening in November, January, March and May.
Q: Shout-out: Is there someone (for example, a purveyor, farmer, chef, assistant etc.) you’d like to tell our readers about?
A: My husband, Jeremy, who is also my photographer and smoker — smoking meats, that is — has been with me every step of the way and has stepped in during competitions to do anything necessary — even cooking eggs when our time was running out!
My assistant, Annette Hicks, who began by drawing on my dessert plates in chocolate, is now my sous chef and cooks with me everywhere I go.
Mike McCloud, World Food Championships creator, who gave me the opportunity to become a chef.
John LoScalzo, Loko Cuisine’s owner/chef, who showed me that cooking with beer really was a “thing,” and for giving me my first opportunity to create desserts for a crowd of people.
Linda Hoskins, National Pie Championships director, who has supported me from my days competing as a home chef all the way to now where I compete and cook professionally.