Seven Questions for Cat Cora

The chef on being involved in the Life Is Beautiful festival, how music pairs with food and her desire for a permanent Las Vegas presence

Cat Cora, best known for her epic battles on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, is no stranger to Las Vegas. The celebrity chef has participated at Vegas Uncork’d—our city’s renowned annual food-and-drink extravaganza—and before the recession, there was even talk of her opening a restaurant here (and if the Jackson, Mississippi, native has her way, those talks eventually will heat up again). In the meantime, Cora is set to make her Vegas return this fall for the Life Is Beautiful music festival, having recently been named to the culinary advisory board for the Downtown event, scheduled for October 26-27.

Life Is Beautiful will offer Cora, 45, the opportunity to work alongside a completely different pantheon than her former Iron Chefs: Rick Moonen, Chris Cosentino and Jet Tila, to name a few. Invited by culinary board chairs and longtime friends Eric and Bruce Bromberg (of Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill fame), Cora will help curate a festival eating experience that’s way more than foods-on-a-stick and deep-fried Twinkies (the tentative plan calls for a Moroccan-style bazaar with food stalls, cooking demos and one-off meals).

What kind of culinary events do you envision for Life Is Beautiful?

I’d like to be doing something from my roots: barbecue and some kind of brews-and-bones-type events. We’re talking about doing a great, phenomenal pop-up dinner in one of the local venues Downtown … We’re going to be doing demos and cookbook signings. They’re going to have me busy!

Have you ever paired up with a music festival before?

I have, in varying degrees, but nothing of this magnitude. … I’m super excited about being a part of creating it, helping the team develop it and giving my ideas—and being with all my colleagues.

What kind of music are you into?

I’m into a little bit of everything, whether it’s jazz or blues or country or a little rock. I’m up for any of it. Bring my Zydeco from New Orleans!

How do food and music work in concert with one another?

It’s a beautiful marriage between music and food. I don’t know any dinner that I cook at home where we don’t have some music going, or when you’re dining [out]. It’s just all about the sensory experience. Music does that in one way, and then it complements the food and wine. They just go hand in hand; it’s like PB&J. There’s nothing better than food to get you in the mood and music to get you in the mood, and they’ll do that simultaneously in a beautiful way.

What’s your favorite festival food?

I have to say barbecue—I love sampling the grilled items. One of the reasons I love that is because it’s so global. I’m Greek-American; I grew up cooking Mediterranean—every country has their version of something barbecued. To me it’s just the best food in the world.

Spring is finally here, so what’s your favorite ingredient to work with this time of year, and how do you like to prepare it?

When spring comes around we eat artichokes almost every day. There are so many things you can do with them, and my kids love them! … They’re a little difficult to get to the heart unless you’re eating a leaf, but if you wanted to do something different, you could braise them.

But other than that, my favorite way is to blanche them a little bit, slice them in half, throw them on the grill with some great olive oil [and] sea salt, and then dip them in a really good sauce.

You recently opened Ocean Restaurant in Singapore. Do you still hope to someday open one in Las Vegas?

Absolutely! We were in talks with a couple of hotels there before the economy crashed, so I was really bummed. But [we were] on task with a potential opening. So, yes—call me!

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