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Cat Cora

The Womens Conference

How She Empowers Others

It's no surprise Cat Cora has become a world renowned chef. Her culinary aspirations began at an early age, and by 15, she had developed a business plan for her own restaurant. In 2005, she made television history on Food Network's Iron Chef America as the first and only female Iron Chef, and in November 2006 Bon Appetit Magazine bestowed her with their Teacher of the Year Award, an award she calls, “the greatest recognition she could achieve as a chef.” That month, she was also honored with another great culinary distinction when she was named Executive Chef of the magazine. With a new restaurant recently opened at Macy’s South Coast Plaza and another on the way at Walt Disney World in fall 2009, Cat’s bringing a taste of her culinary influence to both coasts.

There is no doubt Cat’s upbringing had an influence on her career. She was raised in a small Greek community in Jackson, Mississippi, by a family for whom cooking and eating were the center of life. At the Cora house, it was common to eat spices from the South, as well as fresh sheep and goat cheeses and home-cured olives sent by relatives from the island of Skopelos. Her first cookbook, Cat Cora’s Kitchen was inspired by her Greek and Southern heritage and contains many of her families’ favorite recipes. In her second book, Cooking From The Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals (Houghton Mifflin), Cat elevates at home cooking to new levels. The book applies her “go-with-what-you’ve got” philosophy to creating simple, yet sensational meals.

With advice from of her famous mentor Julia Child, Cat left Mississippi for New York, where she received the education of her dreams at The Culinary Institute of America. While in New York, she apprenticed with and then worked for Chef Anne Rozenweig at Arcadia and worked at the Beekman Tavern under Chef Larry Forgione of An American Place.

Cat’s culinary education continued in Europe with apprenticeships with two of France's three-star Michelin chefs. From George Blanc of Vonnas, she learned a great deal about tolerance, extreme cooking, and the cuisine of the French countryside. With Roger Verge, she learned not only about classical French cuisine, but also about embracing life and living it to the fullest.

After returning to New York, Cat honed her skills as a Sous Chef at The Old Chatham Shepherding Company under Chef Melissa Kelly. She soon headed West to plant her roots in Northern California, where she served as Chef de Cuisine at Napa Valley's Bistro Don Giovanni.

Cat made her TV debut in 1999, as co-host of Food Network’s, Melting Pot with Rocco Di Spirito. She went on to host My Country My Kitchen: Greece, Date Plate, and was one of the featured hosts on Fine Living’s Simplify Your Life. A documentary, Cat’s In The Kitchen was also made about her first James Beard dinner in April, 2002.

Prior to Iron Chef America, Cat was co-host of Food Network show, Kitchen Accomplished where she worked with a design expert and contractor to surprise a homeowner with a 3-day kitchen makeover. In 2006, Cat appeared alongside Wolfgang Puck in NBC’s Primetime Miniseries, Celebrity Cooking Showdown, where celebrities were paired with famous chefs and competed in a timed cook-off à la Iron Chef.

Cat is part of Macy’s Culinary Council, a national culinary authority, comprising 15 of the world’s most prominent chefs. The Council serves as the face of Macy’s Culinary and Housewares divisions, impacting how customers are inspired to shop, cook and eat at home. In December 2008, Cat launched CCQ (Cat Cora’s Que) at Macy’s new Signature Kitchen restaurant in California’s South Coast Plaza location. Inspired by her own unique barbeque traditions, Cat designed CCQ as a fast casual concept that defines her passion for global BBQ, offering various sauces and flavors.

Passionate about teaching families healthy eating habits at home, Cat began working with Disney in 2008, where she created a Disney Video on Demand series. Taking their partnership further, Cat and Disney jointly announced plans to open Kouzzina (Greek for “kitchen”) at Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk Resort in the fall of 2009. Kouzzina will offer a menu of Mediterranean-style cuisine that pays tribute to the Cat’s Greek roots.

Outside of the kitchen, Cat is known for her philanthropy. She is President and Founder of Chefs for Humanity, an organization which was founded in response to the 2004 Tsunami disaster. Modeled after Doctors Without Borders, the not-for-profit gathers the culinary community together to raise funds and provide resources for important emergency, educational and hunger-related causes. In addition to this, she recently became the nutritional spokesperson for UNICEF.

Cat resides in the Santa Barbara area with her family, including her biggest fans, her four sons.

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You can also follow Cat on Twitter and Facebook.