Cat Cora dishes: How her challenges made her America’s one and only female Iron Chef

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coraSpeakingCat Cora is tiny, but her life is not. She is perhaps best known for being the first and only female Iron chef, and for her epic culinary battles that fascinated a nation.

She is also known for her unique fusion of Greek and Southern cuisines, for being a world class chef and accomplished restaurateur.

But what you don’t know about Cat is that she is an incredibly sweet and modest woman with a complex past. She shares that past with us in her memoir Cooking As Fast As I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness, a raw and touchingly candid look at her life thus far. In it she describes how it felt to grow up in the deepest part of the deep south as a lesbian, the emotional imprints of her early adoption, how she transformed early sexual abuse into steely ambition, and how she navigated the beginning of her career cooking during a time when female chefs were the exception, not the rule, during a time you could be denied apprenticeship in France simply based on your sex.

She also exposes the vulnerable underbelly of her relationships, of becoming a mother and wife, of the pressures to provide and succeed in a complex and ever changing career. She writes as though you are her best friend and she’s telling you about her life over a beer. Simply put, it’s an addictive read.

coraSignsShe recently held a book signing and talk at Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa, an up and coming restaurant located in the hip art district the locals call “SofA” (south of A street). The restaurant is edgy and modern and a perfect venue for Cat and her book. She held sway at the bar, meeting each of her guests, signing books, regaling an already lively crowd with her southern drawl; her sense of fun and sheer charm setting the tone for the dinner party/book signing, a Dining with Writers event held by Book Passage, even instigating a multi-table wave mid meal.

The meal itself, conceived and executed by Executive Chef Liza Hinman, was an ode to Cat’s Southern and Greek roots. But the best part was simply sharing a table with not only a writer but also an incredibly fun and down to earth world class chef.

“I never thought people would be interested in hearing my story,” Cat stated, “But my publishers thought otherwise so I decided if I was going to do it I was going to do it raw — tell the real story, no holds barred.”

So what would Cat do if she ever got a moment away from cooking and parenting her four kids? “I would really love to paint,” she said. “I would like to take classes and learn to mix colors and do the whole thing.”

An apt wish for an expert at mixing flavors and composing a life from some very interesting and challenging ingredients.

  

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