Cat Cora has always loved food. Growing up in Jackson, Miss., her family celebrated life with dishes that blended their Greek and Southern heritage.
“We didn't have a lot of money, and there were three kids,” Cora said. “Food was always the earliest reminder of happy memories, parties, family gatherings and all the excitement that comes with it.”
Cora's life is pretty exciting right now. She is the only woman on the Food Network's “Iron Chef” and is the author of “Cooking from the Hip” (Houghton Mifflin, $30). And now she is the executive chef for Bon Appetit magazine.
Cora comes to Charlotte on Friday as the headliner at the Charlotte Shout Culinary Arts Experience. She recently talked with the Idaho Statesman:
Q. What was your first recipe that you made your own?
My godfather, Peter J. Costas, owned a couple of restaurants and trained in French kitchens. I was about 13 or 14 and I really wanted to learn to make something great. He showed me how to make the perfect roasted chicken.
Q. Julia Child became a mentor for you. How did you meet?
I had started working in restaurants in college. (Cora was an exercise physiology major.) I found a job in a really nice restaurant and started studying the kitchen.
My mom suggested that maybe I could be a chef, and then Julia Child came to Natchez, Miss. And I was like, “We have to go.” I went and heard her speak. Afterward I got to meet her, and she sat me down and talked to me for about 45 minutes. Her handlers were going crazy, but she wanted to talk to this young chef.
(Cora graduated from the American Culinary Institute after winning a scholarship to study with Child.)
She taught me to always persevere, never settle and be the best you can be.
Q. Do you have an “Iron Chef” persona?
We're all supposed to be tough, and I'm not like that in real life but I'm not acting, either. I get in the zone and really focus on my food. People say, “You're so sweet in person.” But you can't go in like that. … If you are, you're going to lose. And I come in to win.