Cat Cora, the first woman to win the “Iron Chef America” competition, enters the kitchen April 17 with showbiz names on NBC’s “Celebrity Cooking Showdown.” Think “Dancing with the Stars” with aprons and clanging pots substituted for sequined frocks and live music.
Cora, 38, a Greek-American from Jackson, Miss., who lives in California with her 2-year-old son, Zoran, and her partner, Jennifer, shares her recipe for success.
Question: Tell us about the new show.
Answer: It’s sort of “Iron Chef” a la “Dancing with the Stars.” Wolfgang Puck (known for Spago in Beverly Hills), Govind Armstrong (L.A.’s Table 8) and I are paired with celebrities, teaching them how to prepare a three-course meal and take their dishes to a new level. The three stars left standing do a final competition.
Question: Actually, it seems as if chefs are the new stars in America.
Answer: There are so many opportunities opening up for us. It’s amazing. I walk through an airport, and people yell to me . . . I was at Starbucks, and the girl at the counter wanted an autograph. She said, “You’re giving people (knowledge) to take away.”
Question: Walk us through the challenge of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef.” Is it harder than being a restaurant chef during the dinner rush hour?
Answer: You go up against great chefs. You have to make five courses in an hour (all including a certain ingredient), and our preparation starts from zero. You don’t know (until showtime) what the secret ingredient is. In a restaurant you know your menu ahead and you have an army of cooks. “Iron Chef” is harder.
Question: You certainly showed creativity with secret ingredients. On one show, you turned purple Peruvian potatoes into gelato.
Answer: Potato is such a natural ingredient (for ice cream) because of its starchiness, and you can get it smooth. On the show, we blew it. It was overchurned. But with cream, eggs, vanilla bean and sugar, you can’t tell it’s potato.
Question: What would you say is your signature dish?
Answer: I make a killer braised lamb shank and fava beans.