Chef Profile : Cat Cora

Dalstrong International Chef Database

Chef Profile: Cat Cora

Cat Cora, a celebrated chef, lifestyle entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, restaurateur, editor, and television personality is a dynamo driven by a desire to change people’s lives for the better. She made history when she became the first female chef on Food Network’s hit series, Iron Chef America.

Her victory on this show was just the beginning of a highly impressive culinary career. 

Since then, Cora has opened over 18 restaurants including Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Ocean by Cat Cora, and Mesa Burger. All these restaurants were started to bring fresh and organic ingredients to her guests and be able to share her love and passion for food with the world.  

While her culinary career has contributed to much of her success, her passion for health, wellness, and sustainability are equally inspiring. Today, let’s take a look at this star chef’s journey and how she left her mark in the culinary world. 

Content Table: 

  1. Quick Facts About Cat Cora
  2. About Cora’s Life
  3. Personality
  4. Television Shows 
  5. Books 
  6. Media Appearances
  7. Charity Work 
  8. Fun Facts About Cora
  9. Social Presence
  10. Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Cora

      1. Quick Facts About Cat Cora

      Name: Catherine Ann Cora

      Date of Birth: April 3, 1967

      Birthplace: Jackson, Mississippi

      Partner: Jennifer Cora (Married: 2013 / Divorced: 2015)

                   Nicole Ehrlich (Married: 2018 / Divorced: 2021)

      Restaurants: Mesa Burger; Olilo; Oceans by Cat Cora; Taproom; Wicked Eats

      2. About Cora’s Life

      Catherine ‘Cat’ Cora was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, in an intimate Greek community that had an immeasurable influence on her career. Brought up in a family for whom cooking and eating were the centers of their lives, meals at their home often consisted of spices from the South with fresh cheeses and home-cured olives. 

      Her Greek and Southern heritage also inspired her to write her first cookbook, Cat Cora’s Kitchen. Today, Cat resides in the Santa Barbara area with her biggest fans, her six sons.

      In her early days, the Jackson-ite trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and went on to cook at two 3-star Michelin restaurants in France. With her delightful cooking skills, she has been captivating audiences since she made her TV debut in 1999 as a co-host of Food Network's Melting Pot with Rocco Di Spirito. 

      Later, she also went on to host My Country My Kitchen: Greece and was one of the featured hosts on Fine Living’s Simplify Your Life. You might not know this because Cat Cora is also a woman who holds a series of ‘firsts’ for women in the culinary industry. It all started when she made television history by becoming the first-ever female Iron Chef on Food Network’s hit show: Iron Chef America. 

      Followed by this, she went on to shatter the glass ceiling as one of the first females to shine in the male-dominated culinary industry. Once her Iron Chef debut became a major success, she also featured extensively on several television shows and played co-host on BRAVO’s “Around The World in 80 Plates”, FOX’s “My Kitchen Rules” and ABC’s “Family Food Fight”.  

      Since then, she has blazed her trail through the culinary world. In 2006, Cora was awarded Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Teacher of the Year” Award and was named the Executive Chef of the magazine. If this was not enough, she also went on to become the first female to be inducted into The American Academy of Chef's Culinary Hall of Fame. 

      Over the years, Cat has opened over 18 restaurants across the United States and globally, where she shed light on the importance of health, wellness, and sustainability. 

      Some of these restaurants are Cat Cora’s Kitchen and Cat Cora’s Gourmet Market that is located in numerous airport locations across the U.S. Other restaurants established by her are Cat Cora’s Taproom, located in the Detroit Metro Airport, and Ocean by Cat Cora. She also has an award-winning restaurant in Singapore college Kouzzina by Cat Cora at Disney World.

      CCQ at Macy’s, Postino in San Francisco’s East Bay, Mesa Burger in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Montecito, Olio by Cat Cora, and Wicked Eats by Cat Cora that has over 500 pop-ups across the country are all a part of her long list of restaurants.  

      For someone who loves being the trendsetter, in 2018, Cat partnered with WW on a first-of-its-kind health food destination inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn called WW FreestyleTM Cafe: BKLYN. In the same year, she also features in the permanent collection of the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Museum's Kitchn Table exhibit in Meridian, Mississippi. 

      Cat’s list of achievements does not end here. She is also the Official Ambassador of Little Kitchen Academy, a Montessori-inspired cooking academy for children between the ages of three through teens. It is focused on providing a safe, inspiring, and empowering space for children to identify, develop and refine their senses. She is also the Honorary Head of Recipe Development and Advisory Board Member. 

      This long list of accomplishments was not enough for Cat and she went on to become a prominent author and published three very successful cookbooks, one children’s book, and her remarkably popular memoir called “Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef’s Story of Food, Family, and Forgiveness”.

      Outside the kitchen, Cora is best known for her philanthropic efforts. She is also a dedicated President and Founder of Chefs for Humanity, a non-profit dedicated to reducing hunger worldwide by supporting humanitarian causes and promoting nutrition education. In 2018, she went on to launch her Women’s Empowerment Culinary Internship Program as well. This was established to mentor, give back and help women succeed in culinary arts. 

      Through this program, a female student from the culinary school would be hosted by Chef Cora and her family for a week. This would allow the candidate to have hands-on experience in both the back and front of the house at the Chef’s restaurant, Mesa Burger. Additionally, they would also learn the ropes of the daily operations of Cat’s business.

      Cora played a significant role in addressing the most pressing needs of her community and country for which she was also awarded The President’s Volunteer Service Award by President Barack Obama. She was also honored with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for contributing towards building a stronger nation through her volunteer service.  

      3. Personality

      Now, let’s take a look at how Cora transformed from a small-town girl to a world-famous chef. Although she was brought up in a warm and loving family, Cora went through a tough period of abuse and bullying as a child that deeply affected her.

      In the early years, Cora had it rough at school. Though she was popular and good at sports and cheerleading, she was constantly bullied. And if that was not enough to deal with for a teenager, Cora was also struggling to accept and be accepted for her sexuality. All through her school years, she had to hide the fact that she was gay.

      Cora’s mother was a psychiatric nurse and her father was a world history teacher who was extremely liberal for a family in the 1960s. In one of her books, she also talks about how the Thanksgiving dinners at their home saw guests of different colors, races, and sexual orientations come together to celebrate. Their inclusive home later defined Cora’s personality in a big way.

      Furthermore, in the ’90s, Cora fought her way through a male-dominated culinary world to establish her name, all while clearing the path and making way for more female chefs to follow their dreams. Today, Cat’s culinary empire includes a host of shows, restaurants, a cookware line, and numerous books. 

      All these hardships are what made Cat Cora the fearless “Iron Chef” that she is today.

      Chef Cora continues to be a leader in her industry as she synchronizes her award-winning talents with mainstream accessibility, all while she evolves into a space beyond the culinary world. 

      4. Television Shows

      Here’s a list of some Television Shows that have Cat Cora has been a prominent part of: 

      Year

      Television Show

      Role

      2005-2012

      Iron Chef America 

      Iron Chef

      2006

      Celebrity Cooking Showdown

      Herself

      2008

      The Next Iron Chef

      Guest Judge

      2009-Present

      The Best Thing I Ever Ate

      Herself

      2012

      Around the World in 80 Plates

      Co-host

      2012

      Chopped All-Stars

      Contestant

      2014

      America’s Best Cook

      Mentor

      2015

      Cutthroat Kitchen

      Guest Judge

      2017

      My Kitchen Rules

      Co-Host

      2019

      Family Food Fight

      Judge

      5. Books

      Earlier, we established how Cora is also a prominent published author of some very successful books. Let’s take a look at some of her creations: 

      Books by Cat Cora

      Published

      • Cat Cora’s Kitchen: Favorite Meals for Family and Friends

      August 12, 2004

      • Cooking From the Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals

      May, 2007

      • Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef's Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness  

      September 15, 2015

      • Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist

      2010

      6. Media Appearances

      Lately, chef Cora caught the eye of the media when she and her partner, Nicole Ehrlich, decided to go their separate ways after being married for 3 years. It was reported that the chef’s ex-wife managed to score 3 cars in their divorce settlement. Reports stated that Nicole will keep a 2010 Lexus RX 350, a 2015 Audi CV, and a 2017 Jeep. She would also get to keep some furniture, jewelry, and several bank accounts.

      Another controversial story that was centered around Cat stated that the accounting firm,  Gursey Schneider is suing Cat for breach of contract. As of September 2018, the chef owed them a total of $169,171.15, which she disputed. 

      The parties reached a settlement agreement where Cat allegedly agreed to pay $144,167.38. To ensure that the payment was made, a plan was put in place that said if she defaulted, the full $169k would be owed immediately. And that is exactly what happened. Cat went on to talk about the lawsuit and blamed her financial issues on her ex-wife, Jennifer. 

      This year, Content Marketing Institute also invited her to appear as the headliner for ContentTECH Summit 2021. Here, she took to the virtual stage and shared her experiences as a chef, author, restaurateur, television host, and lifestyle entrepreneur.

      7. Charity Work

      Outside the kitchen, Chef Cora is known and highly praised for her philanthropy. She is the President and Founder of “Chefs for Humanity”, an organization that originated in response to the 2004  Tsunami disaster. Inspired by Doctors Without Borders, the not-for-profit brings the culinary community together to raise funds and provide resources for an important emergency, educational, and hunger-related causes. 

      The volunteers at Chefs for Humanity work tirelessly to beat hunger, obesity and provide helo to those in emergency conditions by generating awareness, raising funds, and rallying volunteers. They recognized how hunger is a constant threat not just within the United States of America but across the globe and strive to address the issue. 

      This charity’s program focuses on 3 areas: 

      • Hunger Relief: Provide the hungry that live in developing countries with resources to tackle this challenging problem.
      • Nutrition Education: Helping children make healthy food choices and help instill good eating habits. It also teaches parents and caregivers to involve kids in the process of making healthy, nutritious snacks and meals.
      • Disaster Response: Ensure immediate access to water, food, and nutrition is one way Chefs for Humanity provides help to others in times of great need. 
      Recognizing Cora’s altruistic determination in the food world, UNICEF named her a nutritional spokesperson to help raise awareness for humanitarian crises around the world.  

        8. Fun Facts about Cora

        She has had an interest in cooking since she was 5.

        Cat admits that her passion for cooking has existed for as long as she can remember. She recalls that when she was only five years old, she would host tea parties and she would bake cookies to serve to her guests, namely her grandmother and other relatives. 

        She has a passion for fitness.

        Did you know that she has a passion for fitness as well? Cat is notorious for wearing her gym clothes in the kitchen. It is not unheard of for Cat to be seen moving around the kitchen in her flipFlops or even wearing a headband. She is not your average chef.

        She has trouble making toast.

        One may assume that chefs are good at cooking everything but the truth is that every chef has his or her weakness. With Cat, her weakness is toast. She admits that she always burns the toast and that she can be heard from around the house scraping toast.

        She craves hummus.

        Cora revealed that she has to eat hummus every few hours. She cannot live without hummus as part of her daily nutritional regimen. She refers to hummus as an all-purpose food and admits that she eats her weight in hummus.

        She believes she would have made a great rockstar.

        She says that if she didn’t become a chef, she would have most likely become a rockstar. It is not that she is so great as a musician or singer, but she believes that she has the ideal personality to be a rock star.

        She loves a good grill.

        Chef Cora loves to grill and smoke meat which is why summer is her favorite time of the year. From meat to avocado, stone fruits, pineapple, watermelon, shrimp, and even coconuts, anything grilled is her favorite. 

        She enjoys a fun family tradition.

        Cat grew up in the Greek Orthodox faith and her parents insisted that she keep family traditions alive year on year. Cat’s family tradition is to have pizza and movie night every Friday. 

        She got the golden opportunity to meet Julia Child.

        When she was trying to decide where to attend culinary school, she ended up meeting Julia Child at a nearby bookstore. Blown away by her gracious behavior, Cora says that Child to out 30 to 40 minutes of her time to advise and guide her to pick the correct school.

        She loves her comfort food.

        While she’s the queen of the kitchen in every way, Cora’s favorite comfort food is a good Greek Cinnamon Stewed Chicken on Orzo Pasta, made by her mother.

        She’s got an admirable net worth.

        This Jackson-born “Iron Chef” or "celebrity chef" has an estimated net worth of $4 Million. 

        9. Social Presence

        Chef Cora is always innovating and creating new dishes, crafting delicious recipes, and sharing her journey with her fans via her social media pages. If you’re a fan who wants to stay up to date with everything that’s going on with her follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

        10. Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Cora

        Is Cat Cora still cooking?

        Cora is currently the co-host of Around the World in 80 Plates, an American reality competition show that premiered on May 9, 2012, on the Bravo cable TV network. Today, Cora also successfully operates her restaurant business. 

        Did Cat Cora win Iron Chef?

        While she did not win Iron Chef, Cat Cora made TV history when she became the first-ever female Iron Chef on Food Network’s hit show: Iron Chef America. 

        Is Cat Cora the only female Iron Chef?

        There is no doubt that Cat Cora paved the way for women to be a part of Iron Chef. After her season, the show saw many other talented female chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli and Amanda Freitag. 

        What is Cat Cora most famous for?

        Cat Cora is most famous for being the first-ever female Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

        What awards did Cat Cora receive from the Culinary Institute of America? 

        In March 2010, Cat Cora was honored by the CIA with an Augie award as Alumna of the Year. In November 2012, Cat was the 25th chef and first female chef to be inducted into The Culinary Hall of Fame and was commencement speaker at the CIA’s Hyde Park campus and at the Singapore campus.

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        Written by Himani Vaid

        Toronto-based food nerd turned food storyteller, Himani is a connoisseur of all things delish. Currently, busy thinking about what to eat next.