In the Kitchen: Cooking with Iron Chef Cat Cora
By Fabiana Santana
It is no surprise Cat Cora became a world-renowned chef. The first female Iron Chef is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a trip she made on the advice of her famous mentor, Julia Child.
“I’ve been cooking all my life. My mom has pictures of me hosting tea parties for my family at a very young age. And I had an easy bake oven so I started baking in that and cooking with my mom in the kitchen making Greek food.”
Both the chef’s grandfather and godfather had restaurants and she spent a lot of time I them. “I got the smell, the vibe, the energy of a restaurant under my skin and it was something I always wanted to do.”
After culinary school, Cat apprenticed with noted chefs such as Chef Anne Rozenweig and Chef Larry Forgione, the chef who is responsible for creating “American” food in New York. She took her experience to Europe and back again where she made culinary waves as the Chef de Cuisine at Napa Valley’s Bistro Don Giovanni.
By 1999, Cat had made her TV debut as co-host of Food Network’s Melting Pot with celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and went on to host Kitchen Accomplished for the network. By 2005, she reached historic heights as the first female Iron Chef cooking alongside legends including Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Morimoto and Bobby Flay. Her collaboration with the network is one she loves.
“The Food Network has been the leader in helping the whole explosion in food and wine. They have everything to do with bringing food and spirits to the forefront.”
When she is not in the kitchen, Cat spends time working on her charities and with her expanding family. Her partner, Jennifer just had their third child and Cat herself is pregnant with their fourth. She is President and Founder of Chefs for Humanity, an organization that she founded in response to the 2004 Tsunami disaster.
Cat’s advice for aspiring cooks is simple: explore. “ Get one good chef knife and start a collection or one great pan. Start experimenting and looking at magazines like Bon Appétit and cookbooks. Watch the Food Network for ideas.”
Once in the kitchen, she says, start simple. “Try one new thing and build on that. I think it is important for people to explore new avenues in food (in order) to expand their palate and their horizons in general. Exploring makes eating more interesting.“
Cat Cora’s Milk and Honey Soup
This very simple recipe embodies the importance of ingredients. It highlights honey, an integral element in Cat’s cooking because of its importance in the South, where she grew up, and, in her country of heritage, Greece.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
8 cups whole milk
8 to 10 ounces (half a wheel) French Reblochon cheese, at room temperature
Eight to twelve 1/2-inch slices of baguette, lightly toasted
1/4 cup clover honey
1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
2 tablespoons minced chives
Place the milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the milk at a simmer, and prevent the mixture from boiling over, until it has reduced by half. Whisk from time to time to keep a skin from forming along the top surface.
Meanwhile, slice the cheese into pieces just smaller than the slices of toast. Top each piece of toast with a slice of cheese and set aside.
Once the milk has reduced, whisk in the honey and add the salt. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls. Float two pieces of toast with cheese on the top of each portion of soup. Garnish with the chives and serve immediately.
Honeycomb and Cacao Nib Mignardise
Makes about 24 pieces
Cacao nibs which are roasted cacao beans that have been removed from their husks, have a chocolate flavor, but are savory rather than sweet. They are a great counterpoint to the sweetness of honey.
Honeycomb can be hard to find, but is worth the effort since it is considered the purest, premium form of honey. Look for a beekeeper that will sell a part of the honeycomb frame known as “chunk honey” or “cut comb.”
Honeycomb is best if used right away or kept in the freezer.
Cacao nibs are available at scharffenberger.com
1 pound honeycomb
2 cups cacao nibs
Finely ground sea salt
Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Cut the honeycomb into 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, dredge the comb in the nibs, gently pressing them into all sides as you work. Place on the prepared sheet and top with a small pinch of sea salt. Once all have been prepared, transfer to a serving platter.
These can be made up to two hours before serving.
Cat Cora’s Top 10 must have items for culinary success:
1. Olive oil
2. Good cookware, like All-Clad’s copper line
3. My grandmother Alma’s hot sweet mustard
4. Comfortable shoes! Right now its hot pink and black Klims from Puma
5. Chef’s jacket
6. Hand mixer
7. A good oven or grill
8. A great knife like the Japanese Chef Knife by Korin Japanese Trading Co.
9. Music – my iPod is currently playing Coldplay
10. InSinkErator Instant Hot Water Dispenser