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Iron Chef Cat Cora Has a New Show, a New Book, and a New Restaurant

How this super busy super chef juggles life in the culinary fast lane plus a house full of children.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
WebMD the Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Professional chef Cat Cora is a force to be reckoned with. The only woman, to date, on the Food Network's Iron Chef America, she is also the executive chef for Bon Appetit magazine, a published book author, and founder of Chefs for Humanity, which brings culinary professionals and educators together with U.S. and global organizations to provide nutrition education and humanitarian aid to countries around the world. She talked to WebMD the Magazine about how she stays healthy and balanced with her high-stress lifestyle (did we mention she has four young boys?) as well as her connection to Julia Child, her new cooking show, why commercial kitchens are still considered male territory, and how she teaches aspiring female chefs to deal with that.

Your new cookbook, Cat Cora's Classics With a Twist, comes out next month. How do you take a classic dish and still surprise?

My goal is to take high-end meals and make them lighter, healthier, easier, and more approachable. For instance, instead of Beef Wellington, I offer a Chicken Wellington made with puff pastry you can buy at the grocery store.

You are, to date, the only female Iron Chef. Why do you think kitchens -- well, commercial ones, anyway -- are still so male-dominated?

When I go around speaking to young women who are aspiring chefs, I tell them that they need to believe more in themselves. Men's strength is in marketing themselves and patting themselves on the back; women are more modest and demure about it. There are so many incredible female chefs out there, great ones. No one knows about it. My strength is getting out there, being proud of myself, not being afraid to market myself.

How do you prepare for a grueling hour of cooking on Food Network's Iron Chef America?

I get in a workout beforehand. I need to be pumped up and energized. I like to be really well rested the night before. Then I mentally zone out and focus on the ideas in my head. Even if I don't know the secret ingredient until I get there, my strategy is to know as much as I can about the cuisine through research. So if I know it'll be a Moroccan dish I'll research all the spices and techniques beforehand. Once I'm in the kitchen I just apply it, and get into the zone.

You refer to the late Julia Child as your "mentor." Explain your connection to this culinary great.

I met Julia before I became a chef. I went to a book signing of hers. She was so gracious, so nice. And while she had a million other things to do, she stopped and gave me 45 minutes of her time, told me where to go to culinary school, things like that. She saw I had this passion. Two years later I was able to spend time with her at her house in Cambridge. I said, "I want you to know, I followed your advice and this is where I'm at!" It was a great personal moment. She had such an impact on me. And now when I'm talking with young chefs I remember to always pay it forward.

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