Amanda Cohen graduated from the Natural Gourmet Cookery School Chef’s Training Program in 1998. Upon graduation, she became a Chef’s Teaching Assistant at the East Village vegan restaurant, Angelica’s Kitchen, while also interning in the pastry kitchen of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, before working for a year and a half as a private chef. Her next position was working as a vegan baker in the production kitchen of Blanche’s Organic Cafe in the morning, while working in the evening as a line and prep cook at Other Foods, which later became Terra 47.
In 2001, she found work as a line cook at Diner Bar, an eclectic neighborhood bar and diner in Harlem. Over the next three years she would work there both full and part time, preparing burgers, steaks, fish and comfort food on a fast-moving, two-person line, handling up to 200 covers per night. In 2002, she became the inaugural chef at Teany, the Lower East Side teahouse created by the musician, Moby, and during her two years there she also did much of the baking for the cafe. She left Teany to open Matthew Kenney’s raw food restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, in 2004 and became its Executive Sous Chef three months later.
In 2005, Chef Cohen left Pure Food and Wine to become Chef de Cuisine at Heirloom, an Orchard Street restaurant devoted to vegetarian cooking. Under her leadership, Heirloom won Time Out New York’s Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Vegetarian Restaurant.” In 2006, she left Heirloom and spent time consulting for the vegan restaurant, Blossom, and for Broadway East, before deciding to open Dirt Candy.
Dirt Candy has won numerous awards and accolades since opening. The New York Times says that “Eating at Dirt Candy can be like going to a child’s birthday party in a country where all the children love vegetables,” and they praised her “…original, clever, visually arresting…” food before awarding it two stars, making Dirt Candy the first vegetarian restaurant to receive two stars from the Times in 17 years. She was the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Iron Chef: America, was selected as one of the ten best vegetarian restaurants in America by Food + Wine magazine, and received an award for her writing from Gourmet (RIP). The restaurant’s award-winning cookbook (Dirt Candy: A Cookbook) is the first graphic novel cookbook in the United States and it’s already in its seventh printing. Dirt Candy is also one of only two vegetarian Bib Gourmand Restaurants recognized by the Michelin Guide for seven years running.
In 2015, Dirt Candy moved to a larger location on the Lower East Side and became the first restaurant in New York City to eliminate tipping.