Don’t be fooled by Cat Cora’s petite frame and bubbly Southern accent. Beneath the immaculate blonde hair and picture-perfect smile lies a rule-breaking, stereotype-defying badass. The first and only female Iron Chef, the perky 43-year-old Jackson, Mississippi native currently splits her time between putting culinary amateurs in their place, presiding over the nonprofit hunger relief agency, Chefs For Humanity, and keeping up with four sons along with her wife, Jennifer Cora. Babble caught up with the surprisingly un-frazzled chef during a book tour to promote her latest work, Classics With a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes and asked her how she manages to get dinner on the table.
What’s your biggest parenting challenge right now?
Spending too much time on the road.
What’s your number one tip for parents trying to make a career and a family work?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Don’t be afraid to tackle it all together. It makes the whole process so much smoother and FUN! Also, when I’m working, that is my focus, which allows me to be present and with my family 100 percent when I’m home.
What rules are absolute in your house?
Biggest pregnancy craving: Spice!
Weirdest habit: I always remove labels off fruits and veggies, even at other people’s houses. I can’t stand seeing them on such beautiful foods!
What makes you cringe: Wet sponges left in a sink and plastic bags in the refrigerator.
We are big on manners in our house, so that is a big rule. [Jennifer and I] are definitely overprotective and concerned for their safety, as all parents are. It is a balance to let them roam but still keep a close eye on them. I always refer to the song, “Hold On Loosely” to describe our parenting approach.
Kids are notoriously picky eaters in general; how do you keep your tribe well fed?
From the very beginning, we made sure our four boys were given tastes of very different flavors and textures from various cuisines. This really helped to open up their palates and prevented them from being very picky eaters. We believe in home-cooked meals prepared and shared together and eating seasonal and healthy food.
Do the kids help with the cooking?
Yes, they love to get involved and help! They fetch ingredients, stir, add seasoning and put things in the pan.
Where did you learn how to do it? Who’s your parenting role model?
My own parents did such an awesome job raising me and my two brothers. I try to emulate their open-mindedness and nurturing support in my daily parenting with my own children. My grandmother, Alma, as well is a huge influence on my life and how I choose to parent.
There are rumors flying around that you’re about to sign a deal with Oprah’s new network. What’s going on with that?
The rumors are true! I’m honored to be a part of the show lineup on the launch of Oprah’s brand new network, OWN. [On her new show, Cora will travel the country helping families in need of a lifestyle overhaul create quick and healthy meals].
What inspired Classics with a Twist?
I wanted to provide a cookbook for people who love classics but are afraid of their lengthy recipes and high-fat and -caloric content. Classics With a Twist provides updated versions of all of our favorite classic dishes made easy enough to prepare every day.
For some of Cat’s favorite meals to serve her family, check out Cat Cora’s Twisted Classics: 3 family recipes with surprising twists.
To make Cat Cora’s Bucatini Amatriciana with Bacon check out the recipe on Family Kitchen