We spoke with the Food Network’s Cat Cora about her early influences, her career success and the importance of giving back. Here are her insights–along with a recipe that’s great for a New Year’s get-together.
You had a business plan for your own restaurant at age 15. What is it that drew you to food and cooking as a career? Was there anyone early on who saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself?
My parents and my godfather definitely did. I loved the energy of restaurants my godfather had. We were a big cooking family, being Greek American in the Southern culture.
Julia Child was a mentor of yours. How did she influence your career?
Julia was an incredible influence, along with my family. It only takes one person to tell you that you can be anything you want to be. I was lucky to have Julia Child be one of them.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Being able to travel all over the world with my wife and kids, exploring different cultures and cuisines. My career has allowed us to see the world. I love to inspire and teach–and I have a platform to do that.
What would you tell your younger self about building a successful and fulfilling career?
To do exactly what I did except with more patience, faith and at times, more grace. To savor the journey more.
You founded Chefs for Humanity, an organization that gathers the culinary community to raise funds for hunger-related causes, and you were named a spokesperson by UNICEF. Why is it important to you to give back?
Giving back has always been important to me—and to my family. My parents were terrific role models. And I believe when you reach a level of notoriety, you have a responsibility to use it to serve others. I started my charity to build an even larger platform to serve.
Was there a time in your career when you didn’t feel completely confident, but stepped up and took a risk anyway? What was the result?
Oh, are you kidding? Most of my early career, leaving to go to culinary school, then heading to France to cook with two three-star Michelin chefs, my first TV show. It was all scary. I was terrified at times but I did step up and took risks. I had a passion, a determination and I used that to propel me.
Crab and Avocado “Sandwiches” with Mango Coulis
2 cups canola oil
½ pound Maine or Dungeness crabmeat
3 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons scallions, thinly slices
11/2 tablespoon red bell pepper, finely diced
¼ cup mayonnaise or aioli
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 ¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 TBS cup lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoon Worcestershire
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 beaten egg
In a 10 inch sauté pan, heat 1 cup canola oil on high heat. Test readiness with a piece of bread. Turn heat to medium. Check temperature with thermometer it should read 375 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine crab, onion, scallions, bell pepper, mayonnaise, Tabasco, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Mix until fully incorporated. Make 3 ounce cakes and dredge in the flour, then egg and the remaining breadcrumbs. Lay the cakes in the oil and pan fry for 5-6 minutes. Remove and place on a paper towel and season with salt in a mixing bowl.
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoon red onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.
2 cups water
1 teaspoon confectioner sugar
In a blender combine ingredients and mix until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To serve crab cakes, spoon puree onto the plate in a small pool. Slice the cake in half and lay the bottom portion in the puree. Spoon avocado on top and place the top of the cake on the avocado like a sandwich. Top with a small amount of avocado and garnish with cilantro leaf.