Ever since Cat Cora popped up on the TV cooking scene as the first female Iron Chef (can you say bad ass?!), I’ve been wowed by her awesomeness, not once but twice watching and simultaneously repeating the Wayne-and-Garth “I’m not worthy!” gesture. See, I’ve always loved to cook, and I have mad respect for this lady.
Besides breaking chef gender boundaries, Cat has also joined First Lady Michelle Obama’s recently launched Chefs Move to Schools program, which pairs chefs with interested schools in their communities to create healthy meals that meet schools’ dietary guidelines and stay within budget, while also teaching youngsters about nutrition and making healthy choices. More than 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and more than 11 million participate in the National School Breakfast Program, so it’s a pretty darn big thing. Oh, and Cat has her own charity, Chefs for Humanity. Again, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Cat has a new book out now: Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes. We’ll be reviewing the book and sharing a recipe with ya’ll tomorrow, but for now, pull up a chair and read our Q&A with the one-and-only Cat Cora!
- FBG: Why did you join the Chefs Move to Schools program with the First Lady?
- CC: I was honored to be invited by the First Lady to participate in the Chefs Move to Schools program. Nutrition education for children has always been something very important to me and that I strongly believe in, so it is the perfect fit.
- FBG: How involved are you with the program? Are you working with any schools?
- CC: I am currently working on adopting a local elementary school here in Santa Barbara, Calif.
- FBG: How do you cook healthy for your own family of four young boys?
- CC: We make a point of using local/seasonal fresh ingredients in our nightly family dinner together. We use the outdoor grill as often as we can for lean proteins, veggies and even fresh fruit for desserts.
- FBG: What are your tricks for creating healthful savory foods? How about for picky eaters and kids?
- CC: We always prepare balanced meals with fresh great vegetables, high-fiber complex carbs, and lean proteins, and introduced our boys to various flavors and foods at an early age to open up the palates. We try to be inventive and keep it fun/flavorful and exciting.
- FBG: What’s your favorite healthy dinner when you don’t feel like cooking?
- CC: At least once or twice a week, we have fresh grilled fish or chicken lettuce “gyros” with a great Greek yogurt tzatziki and a do-it-yourself condiment bar with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and olives. We grill quickly outside, enjoy dinner together in the backyard, and don’t have a hot/messy kitchen to clean up afterward.
- FBG: You’re a busy woman—how do you find the time to work, work out, cook healthy and be a mom?
- CC: I have a great support team around me and make time for myself EVERY day to keep it all and myself in balance.
- FBG: Do you get nervous before cooking competitions?
- CC: I don’t get nervous, so much, but I am competitive by nature, so the gloves are definitely off when I am competing on Iron Chef America.
- FBG: The culinary professions appear to be dominated by men, but is that changing? Do you feel pressure to excel because you’re the only female Iron Chef?
- CC: I definitely think the scene is changing as more and more female chefs are rising to the top and gaining success, but it’s taken a few trailblazers to get us to where we are now. I challenge myself to excel in whatever I do, but definitely want to continue to set a good example for young chefs out there, female as well as male.
- FBG: In addition to serious cooking skills, you have a degree in exercise physiology. How did you plan to use it at the time, and do you use it at all now?
- CC: I have always been interested in how the body works and how we can keep ourselves healthy, so my education definitely plays a part in my cooking and promoting a healthy lifestyle platform today.
- FBG: What is your workout plan like? What’s your favorite exercise?
- CC: I love to keep active and make time to work out every day, even if that means setting the alarm for 5 a.m.! I love to jog along the beach, practice yoga, spend time on the elliptical machine and do free weights several times a week.
- FBG: What’s next for you and your career?
- CC: We’re getting ready to film our ninth season of Iron Chef America, I have my third published cookbook out now, Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist, we’re shooting a new show for Oprah’s new OWN Network, we’re opening a handful of new restaurants around the country, and I’m launching a product and merchandise line that will be out this fall. So stay tuned—LOTS to come!
- FBG: Other cooking or fitness advice for the FBG readers?
- CC: Make being an active, healthy person a part of who you are. Don’t look at it as a task or something that has to get checked off everyday. Once it’s ingrained in your daily lifestyle, it’s something you look forward to and you never dread having to get your workout in.
See? Bad ass. Check in tomorrow for review of her new healthy cookbook and a recipe from it, too! —Jenn