Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chef Spotlight Dinner: Cat Cora

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Tonight was my monthly Chef Spotlight Dinner where friends and I got together to pay tribute to Iron Chef Cat Cora. I chose Cat because of her unique culinary view that combines Greek and southern cuisine.

Cat Cora was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up immersed in both a Greek and Southern food culture. Her grandfather was a restauranteur who was an immigrant of Skopelos, Greece that came to Ellis Island in New York and found his way to Jackson, Mississipi. The fishing industry along the Gulf Coast helped in developing a strong population of Greek immigrants in the south.

Cat Cora says...

"Growing up Greek in the south certainly made one feel different. When I was young, I'd wonder, 'Why are we having steamed artichokes and olive oil instead of fried okra like the rest of the kids?' Now I know it was because we were lucky, but back then you thought you were just a little bit weird. When Easter came along we were dyeing Easter eggs red when everyone else had pastel blues and pinks. On Thanksgiving we'd have corn pudding and turkey on the table with dolmades, spanakopita, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Other than that it was your typical southern childhood. Pitchers of tea brewing in the sun, fresh lemonade for special guests, and lots of hearing 'Don't be going in and out so much.'" -- Chef Story


When Cat was 11 or 12 years old, she and her brothers would help her uncle at his restaurant. She would set the tables or do do little odd jobs for a few dollars. It was around that time that Cat wanted to have a restaurant of her own. There was something about the energy of restaurants that she found fascinating.

Even at a young age, she appreciated the restaurant industry, even more so when her family had restaurants themselves. However Cat didn't just jump into culinary school. Instead, she got a degree in exercise physiology and a minor in biology. But after finishing college, she eventually found herself in culinary school where she attended The Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

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After going to the CIA, she made the decision to go to France and worked in a few French kitchens to gain additional experience. Cat returned to the US and started working around the country. One of the first highlights in her culinary career was preparing dinner for Jacques Pepin while she was a chef at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa Valley. Jacques Pepin was so impressed with Cat's dishes that he wrote a letter to the James Beard House requesting that they have Cat cook there. That was the beginning of many big things in Cat's career.

Cat soon found her way on television doing guest appearances, hosting her own show (Melting Pot) and even working on the Today show. Shortly after, she was given the opportunity to be the first female Iron Chef... a role she's well known for today. As an Iron Chef, she often puts a Greek and Southern twist to her recipes, making them unique and interesting.

So in honor of Cat Cora's career and accomplishments, friends and I came together to enjoy her recipes and Greek inspired dishes. Here's the menu we enjoyed and hopefully you'll give these a try...




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