I wondered if my interview was ever going to happen.
Not because Cat Cora, acclaimed chef and restaurateur best known as the first female Iron Chef on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” doesn’t do interviews.
It’s because I didn’t think she would ever have the time to fit me in.
Not only does she run seven restaurants, develop multiple product lines, host TV shows, does charity work, and write cookbooks, she’s also a wife and mother to four boys.
“I’ve never been a static person,” she says. “I workout every day of the week, love to explore new places and things and get restless easily. I feel like if I just did restaurants, I wouldn’t feel fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong, one restaurant is plenty for work — let alone seven. It’s important to me that I’m constantly growing into the person I am supposed to be and for me, that means expanding beyond restaurants. Maybe I’m crazy!”
I got to chat with Cora, who will be one of the dozens of talented chefs participating in this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival held on Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, about her crazy-busy life.
1. You cook, you write, you run a nonprofit, you even have a shoe line. How difficult is it juggling all of these different ventures?
Well, it certainly made my life much busier, and I won’t say it’s easy. But I enjoy being busy. I think you have to work hard and you have to play hard. I guess I just had more time for play!
2. I’m sure you get asked about business ventures all the time. Anything you’ve turned down? How do you decide on what opportunities to take?
I have definitely had to turn things down. Opportunities come up all the time and I have to weigh them all carefully. I ask myself if the opportunity is going to take me away from my family, is it going to conflict too heavily with my other projects or personal life. Sometimes you just bite the bullet and say yes, and other times you have to be reasonable and turn the opportunity down.
3. What has been the most rewarding part of the nonprofit you co-founded, Chefs for Humanity?
There is nothing like visiting a country like Haiti, a place that has been completely devastated by a natural disaster, and being able to bring joy and smiles to the faces of the people there. It is the greatest feeling in the world. Paradoxically, the greatest challenge is traveling to these places and seeing the destruction and suffering. It is a heart-wrenching experience.
4. What does it take to be successful at restaurants?
Being a successful restauranteur isn’t easy. People’s tastes and preferences are constantly changing. You have to pay attention to the changing food trends and really keep up with what ingredients or dishes are becoming popular. I think it’s fun, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s easy … I definitely have a lot of balls in the air. To be successful in this industry, you have to be willing to work a lot, though, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with being busy, especially when my work takes me to beautiful locations like Hawai‘i! I have a fantastic team to help keep things running smoothly. I always joke and say, ‘It takes a village,’ but the reality is, without a strong team, that juggling can get pretty difficult.
5. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
Other than being invited to cook in such a beautiful place? Well, I have always been a huge proponent for blending cultures. I learned to cook by mixing my Greek heritage with my Southern upbringing, to create a delicious and unexpected fusion of cultures and flavors. I’m excited to bring my style to Hawai‘i and to use ingredients that I don’t utilize that often in California. I have some really great dishes lined up and I think people are going to like what they are eating!
To see Cora or any of the the other chefs participating in this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, buy your tickets here.