Cat Cora is best known for being the first female Iron Chef and for displaying general awesomeness. She’s battled it out with the best of ’em in the pressure of Kitchen Stadium, and she still manages to come out of it looking amazing. She’s the goddess of the kitchen, if there ever were one.
When she’s not cooking up culinary masterpieces, she’s running restaurants, guest judging on shows like Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star, co-hosting Around the World in 80 Plates, writing, and taking care of her kids. She also founded Chefs for Humanity, an organization that aims to help end global hunger. If that weren’t enough, she even became the first woman chef to be inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame.
Cat Cora is the epitome of the powerful female. She’s incredibly successful, she is a proud and open lesbian, and she can do way more than just cook like a wizard.
Cora took some time to answer fan questions on food, life, and more on Reddit. Here’s what she had to say!
Q: What is something about being on Iron Chef that you think would surprise the viewer at home?
Cora: I think what would surprise viewers is how treacherous it can be, running round the stadium with knives and fire. People don’t see all those moments, and there’s definitely things that happen in kitchen stadium, people get cut and burned, but we’re all pros so we take it in stride.
Q: What is one great dish every home cook should know how to make, and do you have any tips on making it?
Cora: Oooh. Everyone should know how to make a great roasted chicken. It’s something classic that everyone can do. And it’s not going to break the budget in case you over or under cook it. And it’s one of the first things that young chefs learn how to make, is how to roast a great chicken. That is one dish that everyone should know how to make. If you can do that, you can do a lot of other things.
I think the biggest tip is to really give it a good slathering of good olive oil, a really nice quality olive oil like a cold press. Always look for cold press olive oil — that will always be high quality — good salt and pepper, and put lemon and various herbs, like thyme, parsley, oregano, rub that on the skin, and then after you squeeze the lemons over the chicken, then put the remainder leftover lemon inside the cavity of the chicken to infuse more citrus into it. And that will really keep your chicken nice and moist. Roast it slowly if you can, 350 degrees, for a good hour, hour and fifteen minutes. Keep basting with juices, the dripping juices, add some more olive oil, just to keep it moist… It’ll get nice and brown if you follow that.
Q: For foodies at home who don’t have the funds to spend on a whole set of top-of-the-line ingredients and equipment, what are the top items I should have in my kitchen?
- Have at least one good knife that is sharp, most accidents happen with a dull knife that you love to use.
- A decent set of pots & pans.
- A really great blender. If you’re going to splurge on anything, get a really powerful blender or something similar to make great sauces.
- For ingredients, just so you know, I always keep a bowl of great citrus – lemon, limes, oranges, tangerines – just so that I can enhance every single dish with a little citrus. That’s a secret ingredient I always use every time in my food.
- I have my own line of olive oils and ingredients, so I know they are authentic because they come directly from Greece. So investigate the quality of your olive oil.
- Good vinegars too. Any kind of acid like vinegar or citrus has no fat, no calories, but it enhances the quality of your food like crazy.
Q: What do you make for lunch for yourself when you are feeling especially lazy?
Cora: Oh lunch! I’m really into kale salads right now. I love getting kale and spinach, and just making this big chopped salads with all kinds of veggies, some avocado on there, that’s really a super easy lunch. I just eat it out of mixing bowl, don’t even put it on a plate. I usually do a lemon olive oil, maybe a little dijon, whip it up, add some salt and cracked pepper. A classic french mustard vinaigrette.
Q: When did you come out, and did you receive any backlash from people in your hometown [Jackson, MS]?
Cora: I came out when I was 19 to my parents, it was after a really sh***y blind date with a woman and it went awry, and I was just over the secret. So I went to my parents, I actually called my mom at a dinner party and asked to come home right away, and had a heart-to-heart with her, and it was the best thing I ever did.
It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I’m glad I did. I was very lucky, even growing up in Mississippi, no one said anything to my face. And I have a strong personality, so when I came out, I held my head up high.
Q: Do you and your wife ever regret being pregnant at the same time? I feel like that could have been quite the event at times.
Cora: No, I don’t think we ever regretted it. We’d do it all over again. Not for another set of babies, but we’d do it for our same set of children. We never had regrets doing it. Definitely there were tough times but it was pretty amazing. The hardest time was AFTER the pregnancy, the first PMS together was super-gnarly.
Q: What are some dishes you love to cook for your boys? Growing up with such a talented chef for a mom, do they enjoy exploring new foods or do you ever have to sneak veggies on their plates?
Cora: We don’t sneak foods, we are honest about foods, we don’t label it good or bad. Growing up, we started real young, when they started eating rice cereal, we’d add spices like cinnamon or ginger, and if you haven’t done that, it’s not too late, but you have to go with the rule I grew up with – try everything once, and start re-introducing foods in a few months.
Don’t ever give up, because my mom never did, and I turned out to be a chef. I continued to introduce foods, set a rule to try everything once, and get your kids involved in mealtime. Get them involved on whether it will be chicken or salmon tonight, corn or peas or broccoli, empower them to make decisions about the menu and they will be more likely to eat the food they’ve chosen.
We do things like great fajitas, fish tacos, edamame, we’re doing comfort food too, like Friday night is pizza and movie night; it’s a tradition I grew up with and we like to keep it going in our family. We like to mix it up.
Q: What was your most challenging Iron Chef ingredient?
Cora: The toughest Iron Chef ingredient I had were things that were not protein, like milk, coffee, butter, that you usually use within a dish, but they had to be the star of the dish. So those were the most challenging types of ingredients, versus chicken, or fish, or shrimp, something that’s a protein.
Q: Does the Iron Chef pantry automatically have things like black truffles or really obscure things, or are those things you have to bring yourself?
Cora: Well, there’s a pantry that has lots of obscure things. They do have a lot of obscure things, not black truffles, but each chef also gets a $500 budget to bring in anything that they want to bring in. So if I wanted to spend $500 on one black truffle to bring in, I could do that.
Q: What is your opinion of the Food Network slowly changing into the Game Network? It seems that more recent shows are no longer geared to learning cooking techniques, but rather game-style competition.
Cora: I think that’s just right now where the competition is. That’s where the ratings are. So Iron Chef was obviously the first real competition show, and after that everyone was doing all these different shows, everyone else wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The reason people love cooking competitions is because it’s two of America’s favorite pastimes: cooking and sporting events.
Q: How much of [Iron Chef] and other cooking challenge shows are real?
Cora: I know for a fact that Iron Chef is real. And I know that Top Chef and Master Chef are real so for the most part, they are all legit shows. They are down and dirty competitions. They are really legit competitions and people are really battling it out.
Q: What’s your ultimate go-to comfort food?
Cora: I would say the ultimate comfort food is… I love a great steak on the grill. Everything is very simplistic. High quality but super made very simply, just olive oil, squeeze of lemon, cracked pepper. Or a good roasted chicken with root vegetables. Or just fresh fish tacos.
Q: What dish do you remember first making and feeling like you really climbed a mountain and succeeded at it?
Cora: I think really working with liquid nitrogen. I think that was something very monumental for me. I remember working with liquid nitrogen, because I wanted to use that on Iron Chef, and I was terrified. And once I made a great ice cream with it, and I really worked with it, it became so easy and I did feel like I’d climbed a mountain.
Q: What’s your favorite peanut butter-based recipe, if you have one?
Cora: I’m a peanut butter fanatic. If I could have one last food, it would probably be that, on a spoon. There’s a great African food made with peanut butter that I love to make. African peanut stew, made with peanut butter and chicken, it’s really really spicy.
Q: What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever eaten?
Cora: Oh, I would definitely have to say fried bull testicles. Definitely the craziest thing that someone has cooked for me. It was pretty wild.
They tasted like chicken? Everybody says that, so it’s kind of a running joke, but anytime you taste something weird, it tasted like chicken. But it tasted like a little chicken meatball, because that’s what it is. That’s probably the oddest thing, and I’ve eaten alligator, and turtle, and things like that as well. I’ve eaten some really wild things, particularly in Asia.
Thanks, Ms. Cora. You are an inspiration to cooks and women everywhere. It’s safe to say that most of us would eat anything you cooked, because it would taste like magic. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing!