With Alexandra Guarnaschelli being the most recently crowned Iron Chef, it only seemed fitting to chat with the first (and only other) female Iron Chef — Cat Cora; ultimate badass inside and outside Kitchen Stadium. Cora is one of those classic culinary icons: She was deemed Iron Chef eight years ago and has since come out with books, clothing lines, television shows, cookware, and non-profit work. As we said, whether it’s in or out of Kitchen Stadium, she’s usually dominating — even in red carpet situations — which is why she’s the perfect icon to kick off the weekend with.
When TNP heads to Kitchen Stadium to guest judge (yes, Food Network, it’s happening whether you know it yet or not) we’re staying out of Cora’s way — besides when she serves us food, which we’ll gladly gobble up.
What would be your ideal food day?
"I have had many. One that stands out in my mind was with my family and mom, my manager and his wife; I had just Christened my ship, The Riviera by Oceana. I am the godmother of the ship — it is the most beautiful ship — and we stopped in Venice. We went around the famous Rialto Market collecting cheeses, cured meats, olives, fruit, wine, and other yummy things. We went along the canals, spread a blanket and had the most incredible picnic! The sun was shining; it was a glorious day. Later that night we went back to the ship and were cooked a twelve-course dinner by a very well-known French chef that made my head spin. That is an ideal food day!"
As the first ever woman Iron Chef, how did it feel to have Alex Guarnaschelli win this year?
"Great; I like her a lot. I beat her when she went up against me as a competitor, but she brought it and was a serious competitor. I have a lot of respect for any woman who can join me as an Iron Chef — and I am glad it finally happened after eight years!"
You became an Iron Chef in 2005. Has the industry changed for women in the last eight years? How so?
"I definitely think Iron Chef was a game changer in the industry. It was before any other major competition and it showed that men and women are equals in the kitchen and competitively. It broke down barriers for women, as I competed — and still compete — against men. And this was historic for television as well."
If you could identify three things one needs to be the next Iron Chef, what would those three things be?
"A competitive nature with iron nerves, serious experience and skill and the ability to juggle being a competitive chef and television star."
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What was your most memorable Iron Chef episode? Why?
"There are so many, but I loved the Thanksgiving match when I partnered with Morimoto against Bobby [Flay] and Michael [Symon]."
What’s the ultimate Iron Chef guest judge faux pas?
"Being a picky eater! We have had a few celebrity judges who didn’t like the secret ingredient — that is not a good sign!"
Do you like where food TV has gone in general? What shows do you like, and which don’t you like and why?
"I have to be honest, I am news geek. I love CNN and HLN and watch a lot of that. I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows. The ones that are about food that I do like have nothing to do with cooking: Deadliest Catch and Duck Dynasty."
"I loved the experience. I cannot say enough about the crew, my buddy Curtis Stone and the production quality [by Magical Elves]."
As a chef who’s also delved into the world of fashion — with your shoe line — does what you do in one industry inspire what you do in another? Or do you think two industries should be mutually exclusive?
"I love fashion, couture, and glamour; I am somewhat of an anomaly in my industry. I really enjoy walking the red carpet. I have so many interests that I hope to branch off into with my brand. I have a scent in mind that would make a delicious perfume; I am talking about a possible clothing line, table fashion in linen and table decor — and that is the tip of the iceberg! I bring together lifestyle with my culinary expertise."
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Who is a chef that you’ve never gone up against, that you’d like to be in Kitchen Stadium with? Why?
"I would be up for anyone who wants to cross the threshold of Kitchen Stadium. I always wanted the American Iron Chefs to go back to Japan and compete against the original cast of chefs."
What ingredient would you want to be assigned?
"Live baby octopus swimming in a huge tank."
Which would you dread?
"Turtles, which are popular in wet markets in Asia. They are so cute!"
What’s always on your grocery list?
"Lots of fruits and vegetables that are in season, hummus, yogurts, lemons, pepperoncinis, lean meats, a lot of healthy snacks for the boys. I could go on and on!"
What’s your go-to dinner recipe?
"That changes with the season, the day of the week, what hour it is; it can change on a dime."
What do you always put out when hosting a dinner party? What do you always bring to one as a guest?
"I put out all my products: olives, crisps, tapenades, cheeses, grilled fruit, almonds — I like lots of starters. We usually take a really good bottle of wine or champagne and also a bottle of my olive oil."
If you could host a dinner party, with any five people living or dead, who would you invite and what would you cook?
"President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Deepak Chopra, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama. I think I might have all my bases covered, mentally and spiritually. I would be fascinated the whole dinner. I would cook my Greek specialties — something I know very well. It wouldn’t be stressful and I could spend more time at the table hanging on every word they all said."