Jackson native Catherine “Cat” Cora is a popular chef who has worked in television, written cookbooks, and opened restaurants in California, Florida, and Singapore. Cat Cora’s Kitchen: Favorite Meals for Family and Friends, the first of her three books cowritten with Ann Krueger Spivack, begins by saying that kitchens introduce chefs to a life of cooking. The first kitchen in Cora’s life “was my parents’ kitchen in Jackson, Mississippi, and the second was the kitchen of my aunt Demetra and uncle Yiorgios on Skopelos, one of the Aegean Islands in Greece.”
Cora attended the University of Southern Mississippi before moving to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America. She then worked at restaurants in France and New York before moving to Northern California. Cat Cora’s Kitchen, published in 2004, begins with meals she learned during her Mississippi youth, moves to meals rooted in her Greek family background, and ends with meals from her California home and restaurants. Cooking from the Hip (2007) offers instructions for meals that are fast and “phenomenal,” with emphasis on the pleasure of cooking and eating as a group. Her 2010 book, Classics with a Twist, reads more like a traditional cookbook, with instructions divided into categories for appetizers, side dishes, main dishes, and desserts.
Cora often describes southern cooking in terms of its parallels with cooking and eating in other parts of the world. A pork dish comes from “my close-to-home and around-the-world menu.” “Greens, too,” she claims, “conjure up images of the South, but this recipe comes to Jackson via Skopelos.” And lemon-roasted chicken with beans and potatoes, a meal she learned to make in Jackson, can be found in different combinations “in New York and California, Europe and South America, and just about every place in between.” With such a broad approach, Cora has situated southern food as part of a wide range of influences and possibilities.
Cora is best known for serving modern meals with Greek and more broadly Mediterranean influences. Cora provides memorable details about growing up Greek in Mississippi. She describes Jackson’s Elite restaurant and its owners, Pete and Jimmy Zouboukos, as well as Celebration Sundays in Greek American church halls.
Since 1999 Cora has appeared as a chef or host on several television shows, including Melting Pot, Kitchen Accomplished, Celebrity Cooking Showdown, Date Plate, Simplify Your Life, My Country, My Kitchen: Greece, and Around the World in 80 Plates. Her skills generated special attention when in 2005 she became the first—and to date only—woman named an Iron Chef on Iron Chef America, a Food Network adaptation of a Japanese show in which prominent chefs compete using various cooking styles and ingredients. Cora has won more than twenty competitions on Iron Chef America.
In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Cora started Chefs for Humanity, and she remains the group’s president. The organization provides food relief to people in disasters, addresses hunger issues, and assists with nutrition education, and Cora has traveled throughout the world to publicize and work to find solutions for hunger and its causes. In 2012 she was elected to the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame.
Cat Cora is married to Jennifer Cora, and they have four children.
- Chefs for Humanity website, www.chefsforhumanity.org
- Cat Cora official website, www.catcora.com
- Culinary Hall of Fame website, www.culinaryhalloffame.com