Iron Chef and Food Network star Cat Cora recently participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), and offered advice about the most essential kitchen tools, how to make a great roasted chicken, and what mythical creature would be hardest to cook and eat, among other things. Cora’s restaurants include Cat Cora’s Kitchen, CCQ, and Kouzzina, which will close later this fall. Her latest project is America’s Best Cook on the Food Network.
Here are Cat Cora’s top ten answers from her AMA:
Have you and Stephanie Izard, the first lady Top Chef, ever talked about doing a Thelma & Louise style travel/cooking show?
No, we haven't ! I love Stephanie and her cooking, but that's a great idea. I may actually pitch that.
What is one great dish every home cook should know how to make, and do you have any tips on making it?
Oooh. Everyone should know how to make a great roasted chicken. It's something classic that everyone can do. And it's not going to break the budget in case you over or under cook it. And it's one of the first things that young chefs learn how to make, is how to roast a great chicken. That is one dish that everyone should know how to make. If you can do that, you can do a lot of other things.
I think the biggest tip is to really give it a good slathering of good olive oil, a really nice quality olive oil like a cold press. ALways look for cold press olive oil, that will always be high quality, good salt and pepper, and put lemon and various herbs, like thyme, parsley, oregano, rub that on th skin, and then after you squeeze the lemons over the chicken, then put the remainder leftover lemon inside the cavity of the chicken to infuse more citrus into it. And that will really keep your chicken nice and moist. Roast it slowly if you can, 350 degrees, for a good hour, hour and fifteen minutes. Keep basting with juices, the dripping juices, add some more olive oil, just to keep it moist.
For foodies at home who don't have the funds to spend on a whole set of top-of-the-line ingredients and equipment, what are the top (say 5 or 10) items I should have in my kitchen (either ingredient or equipment)?
I would say the top 5 things:
• Have at least one good knife that is sharp, most accidents happen with a dull knife, that you love to use.
• A decent set of pots & pans
• A really great blender. If you're going to splurge on anything, get a really powerful blender or something similar to make great sauces.
• For ingredients, just so you know, I always keep a bowl of great citrus — lemon, limes, oranges, tangerines — just so that I can enhance every single dish with a little citrus. That's a secret ingredient I always use every time in my food.
• I have my own line of olive oils and ingredients, so I know they are authentic because they come directly from Greece. So investigate the quality of your olive oil.
• Good vinegars too. Any kind of acid like vinegar or citrus has no fat, no calories, but it enhances the quality of your food like crazy.
What is your opinion of the Food Network slowly changing into the Game Network? It seems that more recent shows are no longer geared to learning cooking techniques, but rather game-style competition.
I think that's just right now where the competition is. That's where the ratings are. So Iron Chef was obviously the first real competition show, and after that everyone was doing all these different shows, everyone else wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The reason people love cooking competitions is because it's two of America's favorite pastimes: cooking and sporting events.
If you were in the original Kitchen Stadium and had to challenge one of these three, who would you challenge?
• Chen Kenichi
• Hiroyuki Sakai
• Rokusaburo Michiba
I'd want somebody else to randomly pick someone else for me out of a hat, because they're all great and I can't choose just one.
Have you ever thought "damn, I have a badass name for a chef."
Yeah, thanks! I think it's pretty cool too, you know? And I was lucky, i guess my parents named me right and I got that nickname in culinary school. One of my first restaurants I ran with Michael Curiello, he tagged me "Cat" so for my whole life I was called Cathy, a lot of people I know, my family, my wife, called me Cathy, and so when Michael called me "Cat" that was right before I got my Food Network show and got started on this journey.
Do you and your wife ever regret being pregnant at the same time? I feel like that could have been quite the event at times.
No, I don't think we ever regretted it. We'd do it all over again. Not for another set of babies, but we'd do it for our same set of children. We never had regrets doing it. Definitely there were tough times but it was pretty amazing. The hardest time was AFTER the pregnancy, the first PMS together was super-gnarly.
I love peanut butter! What's your favorite peanut butter based recipe, if you have one?
OMG! I'm a peanut butter fanatic. If I could have one last food, it would probably be that, on a spoon. There's a great african food made with peanut butter that I love to make. African peanut stew, made with peanut butter and chicken, it's really really spicy.
What mythical creature would be most difficult to cook and eat?
And, how would you prepare it?
Probably a dragon, because first of all, you'd have to capture it, and my kids — since we have 4 boys — they were for a long time into dragons. And they breathe fire, so they'd be really tough to capture. And how gnarly that skin is, to get to the meat.
I'd probably do some barbecue dragon ribs, with a little olive oil, salt & pepper, then slather some bbq sauce on it. Spicy barbecued dragon ribs.
What was your most challenging Iron Chef ingredient? Who was the most challenging competitor? Do you really only get an hour and when that thing rises, is that really the first time you see the secret ingredient? Does the Iron Chef pantry automatically have things like black truffles or really obscure things, or are those things you have to bring yourself?
Basically, how much of that and other cooking challenge shows are real?
Thank you so much. The toughest Iron Chef ingredient I had were things that were not protein, like milk, coffee, butter, that you usually use within a dish, but they had to be the star of the dish. So those were the most challenging types of ingredients, versus chicken, or fish, or shrimp, something that's a protein.
Who I lost to with the largest lead was Will Shriver, who used to be the White House chef at the time and he smoked me.
Yes, we do know (and this is documented because Food Network did a documentary on behind the scenes) that we know it will be one of four or five ingredients, but we don't know which one until the chairman raises the top of the ingredient. And we do only get 60 minutes.
Well, there's a pantry that has lots of obscure things. They do have a lot of obscure things, not black truffles, but each chef also gets a $500 budget to bring in anything that they want to bring in. So if I wanted to spend $500 on one black truffle to bring in, I could do that.
I know for a fact that Iron Chef is real. And I know that Top Chef and MasterChef are real so for the most part, they are all legit shows. They are down and dirty competitions. They are really legit competitions and people are really battling it out.
What's the most bizarre thing you've ever eaten?
Oh, I would definitely have to say fried bull testicles. Definitely the craziest thing that someone has cooked for me. It was pretty wild. They tasted like chicken? Everybody says that, so it's kind of a running joke, but anytime you taste something weird, it tasted like chicken. But it tasted like a little chicken meatball, because that's what it is. That's probably the oddest thing, and I've eaten alligator, and turtle, and things like that as well. I've eaten some really wild things, particularly in Asia.
Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.