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Recipe for success

Celebrity chef charts a rocky rise to fame

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/9/2015 (1722 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

'In the culinary world women are more welcome now than they were in Julia (Child's) day... but what remains unchanged is the way we are, at all times, in a position of having to prove ourselves," says Cat Cora in her memoir Cooking as Fast as I Can.

Cora is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, apprenticed with two world-renowned French chefs, is the first female Iron Chef, owns multiple restaurants and is a television host and philanthropist. She has written three cookbooks: Cat Cora's Classics With a Twist, Cooking From the Hip and Cat Cora's Kitchen.

Cat Cora chose the culinary world after winning a cooking contest and meeting Julia Child. (Food Network)

Cat Cora chose the culinary world after winning a cooking contest and meeting Julia Child. (Food Network)

These accomplishments are documented in the memoir, but it is Cora's personal life that makes her story unforgettable.

Co-written by Karen Karbo (author of several books, including The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) Cora's memoir begins on April 3, 1967, when she was born in Greenwood, Miss. One week later, Virginia Lee and Spiro Cora adopted her. "My childhood was a perfect as could be," she writes.

She grew up in Jackson, Miss., with loving parents who were educated and open-minded, exposed Cora and her two brothers to the delights of homemade food, and taught their children about their Greek heritage.

Suddenly her blissful childhood was marred forever. At age six, the 15-year-old son of family friends sexually abused her. The abuse continued for several years. Cora references the abuse regularly because it affects her need to prove herself and feeling unworthy of love.

Although her life is fascinating, the writing is sometimes perfunctory and disjointed. Sections of her story simply end with a graphic mark rather than transitional narrative.

But the memoir contains incredibly moving segments, including meeting her biological mother. "I knew that if I glimpsed you in another woman's arms or in a stroller, or playing with a bunch of kids at the park, that I would absolutely recognize you," says her birth mother.

While Cora knew she was a lesbian early on, by the age of 23 she still didn't know what she wanted to do for a career. "I knew that cooking made me feel settled and happy, but otherwise it wasn't obvious that I'd make a life for myself in the culinary world."

Then Cora entered a local cooking competition and won. The win, followed by meeting Julia Child, helped her focus. "It's a man's world," Child tells her. "You must know this. But be stubborn and intractable in your determination and success will be inevitable."

As driven as Cora is, she freely shares her faults. After being accepted into the Culinary Institute of America, she quit after two weeks, going back a year later, when she was ready. She also wanted to go home after arriving in France to apprentice with two chefs. "However terrible I felt at this moment, I'd come too far. And I felt angry at myself for not being made of sterner stuff."

In 1999, Cora met Jennifer, the love of her life. They fell in love immediately. For such a pivotal relationship, the lack of detail surrounding their connection feels incomplete.

Her ensuing success is a whirlwind of activity. Cora averages 250 nights away from home doing TV shows and appearances. Together with Jennifer, they have four sons. Their life is chaotic but full of love.

It's unfortunate Cora's memoir is not more focused on her personal life, as the authentic truths in her story are about family. These passages are juxtaposed with too much career information shared in too frenetic a manner. But philosophically, perhaps that's where Cora's life is at right now: in the fast lane.

 

Deborah Bowers is a writer, marketing and communications director and foodie.

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