It's no shock that Cat Cora didn't really cook anything for her book-signing at Changing Hands Bookstore last night.
One errant whiff of smoke from a cook top and the overhead sprinklers at Changing Hands would have brought down a deluge -- ruining the Q&A not to mention an inventory of product made exclusively of paper.
Without a flame, the Iron Chef produced a bread salad inspired by Egyptian cuisine that included a citrus-tasting spice the majority of her audience hadn't heard of much less cooked with. They gobbled it down -- garlic-infused oil, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and all -- while Chef Cora answered their questions about working with the likes of Masaharu Morimoto and her upcoming show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
"I had just done the Today Show when I got a call asking if I wanted to be the first female Iron Chef and I was like, 'Yeah!'"
Cat Cora is much small in stature than your Sony Bravia would have you believe, but that realization is quickly pushed to the side like an Iron Chef camera crew when she starts talking. This lady's got attitude. Maybe that's why Oprah chose her for an upcoming show on the Oprah Winfrey Network where the Iron Chef will rehabilitate kitchens and families.
"It's going to be kind of Dr. Phil plus Super Nanny plus kitchens," she said. "This show's really going to be about going in and using people's food to solve issues around family dynamics as well. I want to do something that's really going to be impactful."
Of course there's no impact that can rival one initiated by the first lady, and Cora spent a great deal of time talking about her cooperation with Michele Obama's health initiatives for public school cafeterias. She's pushing for more nutrition education in schools. She's pushing for more cooking classes and gardens. She's also getting her hands dirty going so far as to make liquid nitrogen ice cream with avocado for her son's class at school.
"Of course all the moms are mad at me now cause they're like, 'Well how do I top that?'" Cora said.
Don't let the advocacy fool you, though, Cora's a chef through and through and she's paid her dues to get there.
In addition to her celebrity status, the perks for being an Iron Chef extend to a great deal of respect, something that a female chef in an industry composed primarily of machismo-filled bastards has to work pretty hard for. "Now it's 'Yes chef'," Cora said, "the way it should be."
Speaking of Iron Chef, Cora said the cooking is real time. There's no pre-show preparation or planning. Only a boiling pot of water waits solitary on the cook top when the Chairman screams, "Allez cuisine."
The one part of the show that is a bit smoke and mirrors is when the iron chefs are chosen. The battles, it would seem, are scheduled. "They can't call me in L.A. and say 'you've got a battle, get on a plane,'" Cora admitted.
Such is the busy life of the celebrity chef: winging it across the country to do battle with a culinary challenger one day and stopping off in Phoenix to do a book signing the next. After the Q&A, Cora patiently autographed copies of her latest book, Classics With a Twist (and, we hear, even a few Chow Bella aprons).
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The book explores food's greatest hits and bitches them up a little.
There's a Caesar salad with a spicy dressing and chipotle croutons. There's a grasshopper cocktail that forgoes the extra-terrestrial green of the original's crème de menthe for fresh mint and white chocolate Godiva liquor.
Several classic recipes didn't make it, Cora said. "I guess there will have to be a sequel."
Hey! We could go for seconds.