Cat Cora is a food lover on a mission. Whether she’s competing against her fellow chefs on Bravo, opening new restaurants or working diligently to raise money for underserved communities via her nonprofit initiatives, Cora gives 100 percent to everything. She took some time to share her thoughts about her food heroes, what it’s like to work as a lesbian chef in a mostly male industry, and more.
You were born in Jackson, Mississippi. What is your connection to Austin?
I’ve visited Austin several times. I love the vibrancy and rich, diverse art and cultural scene there. I knew this was an area where public policy could make a difference in people’s lives.
Cat Cora’s Kitchen opened late last year in Terminal E of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. How’s business?
Business is booming at Cat Cora’s Kitchen, IAH (as well as at Cat Cora’s Kitchen, SFO), and we have plans to open several similar ventures around the country in other airports, including two opening in SLC early 2012.
Who is your number-one cooking mentor and why?
I would have to say Julia Child, who took the time to talk to me in depth when I was in my early 20s, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, and ultimately inspired me to enroll in culinary school. She proved that you can follow your passion and really pioneered the way for women in the professional culinary industry.
Your nonprofit helps people across the world in need of education or humanitarian assistance. What Chefs for Humanity endeavor are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of all of the great work that Chefs For Humanity has been able to provide, but being invited by the World Food Programme and Yele Haiti to make a field visit to Haiti after the earthquake last year was one of the highlights for me. We plan to return this year again, and will always continue to help as we can.
As a woman and lesbian in a male-dominated industry, have you ever felt singled out or other-wise discriminated against?
Absolutely. When I stayed in France 15 years ago, I was literally the only woman in the kitchen at the time. It’s impossible to not feel singled out or alone in a situation like that, but it just makes you work that much harder to prove how capable you are. Times are changing and it’s becoming a much more tolerant industry nowadays, but it’s still stressful, intense, and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure.
You’ll be on Bravo’s forthcoming Around the World in 80 Plates. Ten countries in 44 days. What can you tell me about the competition?
It was an amazing experience. We went around the world and had to open up our mind and palates to foods and ingredients that are unfamiliar.
You and your partner have four sons—how old are they? With everything that you have going on, how do you balance it all?
Our sons are eight and 5 1/2 years old, and the two “twins” are 2 1/2. I have a great partner and support system, and somehow our organized chaos works!
What other projects are you working on?
Chefs for Humanity has partnered with Food & Wine’s “Chefs Make Change Campaign” to raise $1 million for hunger initiatives. I have a line of California wines (Coranation), a line of award-winning specialty Greek food products (Cat Cora’s Kitchen by GAEA), my own set of cookware (Cat Cora’s Kitchen by Starfrit), I just authored my first children’s book last year (Suitcase Surprise for Mommy), and I have many more pots on the burners.
If you knew the world was going to end, what would your last meal be?
There are so many foods I love, so this would be hard to pick, but one of my favorites is lamb, so that would probably be my main entrée. Eggplant is another of my favorite foods, and for dessert, definitely something with chocolate or peanut butter!