When Cat Cora graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, she wanted her on-the-job training to be with the best. She sent out resume packets to 10 renowned French chefs – all had three Michelin stars – and she received eight rejection letters. But two of the chefs, Georges Blanc and Roger Verge, offered her jobs. Cora accepted both because they had very different styles and came from different regions. It was, she says, one of the most difficult and scariest things she’s ever done.
Growing up in Jackson, Miss. in a Greek-American family, Cora embraced both her southern and Greek culinary roots. Her grandfather and her godfather both ran restaurants, and her mother was a wonderful cook, so she knew early on that she wanted to own a restaurant (at age 15, she even drew up a business plan).
Cora became a household name after being selected as the first (and so far only) woman Iron Chef on the Food Network’s popular TV show, Iron Chef America.
Food style: Updated Greek/Mediterranean with a California twist
Upcoming projects: A cookware line (Cat Cora by Starfrit) and a specialty food line (Cat Cora’s Kitchen by GAEA); filming several shows for Oprah’s new network, OWN; her first children’s book, A Suitcase Surprise for Mommy (Penguin, $16.99), comes out this month; her next restaurant will be opening in the new Virgin terminal at San Francisco International Airport.
Fun facts: Cat has a degree in exercise physiology. She’s also trained in martial arts, and she has “a weakness for peanut butter.”
What is the last thing you cooked for yourself?
Grilled skewered prawns and avocado with romesco sauce.
A meal or a dish that was an inspiration or a revelation?
Perfecting my first-ever roasted chicken – a seemingly simple dish to prepare, it can be difficult to get just right, and after several attempts, mine was beautiful, and had me hooked on wanting to create newly perfected dish after dish.
Last restaurant where you dined and the best thing you ate there?
Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara – this amazing clams and chorizo dish with a huge piece of grilled bread with aioli!
“Secret” hole-in-the-wall restaurant?
La Superica in Santa Barbara has the best tacos ever.
What was your favorite childhood food?
Growing up, I loved my mother’s Greek cinnamon-roasted chicken, kota kapama, a dish I continue to love and cook for my own family today.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
Tons of condiments! We always have a variety of mustards, vinegars, pepperoncini, jarred roasted peppers, and pickles on hand to flavor up anything or use as accompaniments.
A favorite dish at someone else’s restaurant?
At Alain Ducasse in Paris, his black truffle salad.
A dish you’d never make again?
If you retired tomorrow, what dish would you be remembered for?
My cinnamon stewed chicken – it’s a family recipe, and I made it for Oprah!
When you are in the Bay Area, what dish at what restaurant do you crave?
I always go to Slanted Door for their glass noodles and crab.
For more information on Cat Cora, visit www.catcora.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org