Iron Chef, Live: Cat Cora on Haiti, Houston & hot kitchens
If Iron Chef didn't exist, someone would have to invent it to describe Cat Cora. The first and only female Iron Chef is also the executive chef of Bon Appetit magazine, the proprietor of CCQ (Cat Cora's 'Que) in California and Kouzzina in Florida, as well as a member of the Macy's Culinary Council, an author of two cookbooks (and counting), the founder of Chefs for Humanity and a mother of four. When Cora jetted into town to perform a cooking demonstration at Macy's, we took a few minutes of her time to talk about Houston, Haiti and her crazy career.
CultureMap: Have you had a chance to check out the culinary scene in Houston? What do you think?
Cat Cora: It's definitely grown in the past few years. I'm in Houston quite a bit, being from Mississippi, and I have family in the area at College Station. I really wanted to try some of the new places, like Haven and Branch Water Tavern, but I didn't get a chance because I got in so late last night and I'm leaving this afternoon. But I'll be back.
CM: When you travel to do events like this demonstration, what do you want people to gain from the experience?
CC: Well, for me it's just exciting to see 150 or 200 fans in person, and to talk to them and take pictures and answer their questions. But for the audiences I just want to share some great recipes and be entertaining, maybe offer them some tricks of the trade and let them see more of me and my personality. You know, that I'm just like they are, I have kids and have to get dinner on the table, so I understand. I want the experience to be casual and intimate, more than just a 'how-to.'
CM: Are you planning to expand CCQ? Tell me about some of the projects you have in the works.
CC: CCQ is doing great, and it's been great working with Macy's. We're looking at starting to expand the brand, now that the economy is more in recovery. We're looking at Herald Square, maybe Houston, we'll see.
I'm going to Haiti in April as part of Chefs for Humanity, and then in June I'm starting my book tour for my new cookbook, Cat Cora's Classics. It's about making those classic recipes that people get nostalgic for and updating them to make them more accessible and healthier.
We've also got a new season of Iron Chef coming, and I'm in the process of launching a merchandise line with a Canadian company called Starfrit. We're still talking to different stores, but it's going to be a very green line, both in the packaging and materials — we're using a lot of acacia wood, which is kinda like bamboo in that it grows really quickly. There will be a lot of really unique things, it's very exciting.
CM: Tell me more about Chefs for Humanity. You mentioned Haiti?
CC: Well I founded Chefs for Humanity about five years ago after the tsunami in Asia. We are working with Share Our Strength and Timberland on this upcoming trip to Haiti, and we're trying to work on food distribution with the World Food Project. It's all about going to see what really needs to be done and how we can help get food to the places and people that really need it. The situation is already dire, and now the rainy season is about to start, which is a whole new challenge for people trying to get basic necessities together. We also work on nutritional education and work with Share Our Strength on the No Kid Hungry program to combat childhood hunger.
CM: OK, back to cooking. How has Iron Chef changed the way you cook? Do you ever keep any of the recipes that started on the challenges?
CC: I think a couple dishes in the new book are things that emerged from Iron Chef challenges. We should do an Iron Chef cookbook, but we'd all have to get together to try to remember what we made and what ingredients were in each of the dishes. When you have to do, you know, 25 in an hour, it all starts to blur together and you tend to forget.