She is best known for her featured role as an - Iron Chef - on Iron Chef America and as co-host of Around the World in 80 Plates. But there is more to Cat Cora than meets the eye. Indeed, I came to know her and respect her not because of her undoubted culinary skills and fame but for her philanthropic involvement in causes which really made a difference to so many lives across the world.
Her name was brought to my attention when she was nominated as a UNICEF spokesperson. I was, and still am, very active within an international Hospitaller NGO registered under the United Nations and during that period in time – the Obama period - I was working extensively on the ground in the States. It was there that her name crept up, due to her active participation in charity wine auctions held by Auction Napa Valley.
In January 2005, following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Cora co-founded Chefs For Humanity. The organization is a grassroots coalition of chefs and culinary professionals guided by a mission to quickly be able to raise funds and provide resources for important emergency and humanitarian aid, nutritional education, and hunger-related initiatives throughout the world.
And this is where suddenly, Cat Cora was not an American TV chef and personality any more but someone dedicated to change the lives of the vulnerable for the better. I first met Cat in Los Angeles. You would immediately realise that she had entered the room. Petite in stature but such a beautiful and intelligent woman. Her Greek descent (her paternal grandparents were from Skopelos, Greece) ensured an image akin to a Greek goddess. Once you start conversing with her, you immediately realise that this woman knows precisely what she wants in life.
Business-wise, that is an understatement. Cora made television history in 2005 as the first female Iron Chef, joining Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Masaharu Morimoto on the first season of Food Network's Iron Chef America, spending 10 seasons on the show. Her brilliant TV career in the culinary world continued to make her an international icon. Today, she is also Executive Chef for Bon Appétit magazine, apart from being a very successful international restaurateur: In 2008, Cora opened Cat Cora's Que (CCQ), a restaurant in Costa Mesa, California. A number of airports across the United States also feature Cat Cora's Kitchen and Cat Cora's Gourmet Markets which were opened in 2011 and 2012, including at George Bush International Airport (IAH) in Houston, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), and Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). The eponymous Cat Cora's Kitchen, a bar and lounge-style restaurant, opened at Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport in April 2011. Later in 2011, a Cat Cora's Kitchen was opened in Terminal E of the Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Cora opened The Ocean Restaurant at the S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa off Singapore in February 2013. The 63-seat restaurant is inside the world's largest oceanarium. Since 2016, she has a partnership with Aramark, providing dining options in businesses, universities, schools, hospitals and sports stadiums under the names Olilo and Wicked Eats. As of 2022, there are more than 500 Olilo locations in the United States.
I was privileged in being able to admit Cat Cora into a much-sought-after international institution who awarded her the prestigious Companionate of Merit of this exclusive organisation. She received this award not because of her TV fame or her successful business. Cat Cora had a difficult and challenging life. She always rose to the occasion. She always achieved her goals. She always helped the vulnerable. For such an important latter feat, I am so proud to have had the acquaintance of such a brilliant person and I look forward to when we will be chatting again on this or that initiative.