Iron & Weed: Cat Cora Eyes the Edibles Industry
Cat Cora moves to dominate the cannabis industry with the same health-focused, love-filled cooking she brought to ‘Iron Chef America.’
By lunchtime, Cat Cora has already finished her daily workout, dropped her six sons off at school and is heading back to pick up one son who injured himself. “It’s a busy day,” the award-winning chef says from her Santa Barbara, California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but if there is one thing that 20 years of television appearances has taught her, it’s to always be prepared.
“I always say, ‘Life is in session,’” she asserts.
Cora, best known for being the first female chef to appear on the popular cooking game show “Iron Chef America,” is a powerhouse of the culinary world. Initially supported by strong mentors, such as Julia Child and other Michelin-starred French chefs, Cora has spent countless hours both on camera and in the kitchen at her restaurants. She was the first woman inducted into the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame, a recognition given to cooks that have made major contributions to cuisine and food preparation, authored several cookbooks and opened more than 18 restaurants in the U.S. and across the globe. In between hosting parties at the Golden Globes, feeding athletes at the Super Bowl, and helping design a menu to send Olympians into competition at the Winter Games, she’s joined by her fiancé and CEO of Cat Cora Inc., Nicole Ehrlich, to discuss health and wellness routines with Cannabis Now. The conversation — unusually enough for a celebrity chef with her type of name recognition — also includes talk of cannabis.
Cannabis Now: You are an extremely accomplished chef and television personality and cannabis is still a controversial and stigmatized plant. Why have you decided to go public and show others how to use cannabis as a culinary ingredient. Do you have a personal story associated with cannabis?
Cat Cora: Yeah, I do actually. Even though I’m not a personal user, I’ve always been an advocate for the use of medical cannabis. I think it should be legal for everyone and it shouldn’t be something you have to go and get a card for and go into a dispensary to obtain. It should just be legal.
My dad loved food. We’re Greek and very passionate about food. My father was diagnosed with cancer twice: beat it the first time, the second time he didn’t. He was a man who was so full of life, loved food so much, but was reduced to eating popsicles on a spoon. It was heartbreaking.
I feel like if he had access to medical marijuana, then he may have had more of an appetite, he would have been able to sustain himself longer through his illness and we would have had him around longer.
So I’m a huge proponent for medical marijuana. Everyone should have the right, especially here in America, to have alternative medicine.
The fact that we are slaves to big pharmaceutical and we don’t have a choice is not okay. It’s not an option anymore.
My mother is battling cancer as well — thank goodness she’s doing well — but again, she’s from that older generation that says, “If it’s not legal, I’m sorry I just don’t feel comfortable doing it.” It’s [too bad] because, once again, she could have had access to alternative medicine that may help her. Even though she’s doing well today, she has been battling cancer for four and a half years. It would have, at the very least, helped her combat nausea through the chemo.
I’m passionate as a chef and I want to be one of the pioneers to really move this ball forward. Everybody should have access to it. Everybody should have access to medical marijuana without the hassle and without the huge expense.
Do you have any recommendations for using cannabis in the kitchen? Do you cook with it often?
I’m learning a lot about usage, dosage, things like that. I’m a big proponent for olive oil. I’m Greek, obviously, but the Mediterranean diet as we know it is the healthiest diet on the planet. So [I’m adding cannabis olive oil to] anything that I can infuse. I’ve worked on some of my recipes like lamb chops with a salsa verde with cannabis infused in the salsa verde itself. I’ve used the oil, I’ve done it in a rub on meats and things like that. [I’ve put cannabis olive oil in] vinaigrette for healthy salads. There are so many applications. I have so many amazing ideas and a lot of things that I really want to apply it to. I want to create products around cannabis with the right partner and the right situation.
I’ve heard rumblings that you’re working on a wellness center with Melissa Etheridge. Is there any basis to that rumor?
Melissa and I are great friends. She’s a super big proponent of medical marijuana, we share that passion and we did talk at one point about doing that. I know she went on tour a lot and I got busy, but anything that she does, we’ll obviously support. I’m behind anybody that wants to push this movement forward in the best possible and organic way.
Do you feel about your cannabis in the same way that you feel about your food? Are you looking for sungrown, organic cannabis — the best selections?
Absolutely! I’m always going to be looking for sustainable ingredients, organic when it’s available. I’m always looking for the healthiest, best grown, farm-to-table-type ingredients that are regional and local. I’m a big proponent of supporting local farmers when we can. Sustainability is a big part of my platform as well. I want to make sure that we’re getting the best food into our bodies, but we’re also protecting the earth. It’s really a big part about how I source our ingredients and products.
You have a very large family and you’ve appeared on several programs designed to get kids involved with cooking. Do you have strategies that you use to teach children about cooking and the value of healthy food?
I think it’s really important to get kids involved and get them excited about cooking, especially cooking healthy food. Get them invested in the meal with you, whether its by going out and picking the herbs for the meal or taking them to the farmers’ market.
Nicole and I take our kids to the farmers’ market almost every Sunday that we have them, and they get so excited about going and finding great deals on their berries and getting their breakfast. One of the biggest questions people ask me is, “How do I get kids to eat vegetables?” and about picky eaters and, again, I think it’s just getting them excited about the meal. Let them help make the menu for the night. Give them a choice.
It’s a simple five-minute conversation: “Hey guys, we can have salmon tonight or do you want roasted chicken?” Empower them to make decisions on what they’re putting in their bodies to get them more excited about it.It’s one thing to be a capable chef, but it’s a whole other thing to be a capable chef on television. What are some of the methods that you use to prepare for your onscreen appearances?
I think that in life, there are always going to be challenges. I always say, ‘Life is in session.’ As a TV personality, as someone who has been doing this for 20 years and has done so much television, preparing for me is really preparing every day. If I’m not going to be on TV for two weeks, I’m still preparing every day. Whether it’s through meditation, health and exercise, eating clean, or through always taking care of my body in some way — mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Obviously, being head-over-heels in love with Nicole makes life incredibly beautiful every day.
We’re always surrounding ourselves with our family. We have six boys who are just amazing young men, and so we are full of love and full of family.
It really is about that. It’s about staying connected to your family and really having that quality time. It’s about staying connected to friends who are close to you and who always have your back and are supporting you. It’s Nicole and I staying connected as a couple and as moms to our children. It’s really about every day going out and being an eternal optimist and waking up every day and looking forward to the day.
Really, for TV too, it’s a mental game. It’s not just about how I look, but how I feel mentally and how I feel in my own skin. So for me, it’s a daily regimen of exercise, mediation and connection. All of those things keep me rich and full of life. It’s a daily thing. I’m constantly keeping myself in a place where [I’m ready]. And plus, we get called all the time for last minute things.
I love being active. I love staying in shape. My first degree before I became a chef was in exercise physiology and nutrition, so wellness has been my platform since I was 19. For me, I thrive on getting my exercise in and feeling the endorphins and feeling fit and strong. So Nicole and I always do something daily and I love that because it makes me feel amazing and we’re able to be strong for our sons, and we’re setting a good example for how to eat healthy and how to stay active and stay fit. So for me it’s a way of life. It’s not work for me.
What’s next for you?
We have several shows that we’re working on and developing, not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera as producers. I’m a chef for Team USA, and we’re in the midst of the Winter Olympics. We’ve got a product line we are hoping to launch this year and a new book, so we’re busy. It’s great… and the biggest part of the year, we’re getting married in a couple of months! It’s amazing to be able to work with your best friend and also be in love.
Also, we hope this year we find a partner in cannabis and create some amazing products that will be out there for people in a conscious way.
How has being a women defined and shaped your role in the culinary industry?
I’ve always seen myself as a professional and as a chef first, before a woman, and so I’ve never that that stop me from believing I could do anything. It’s obviously a predominantly male industry, but I’ve been lucky enough to have so many strong women in the very beginning of my career: Julia Child who mentored me, Anne Rozenweig, Barbara Croft — strong female mentors who have helped me in so many ways. I didn’t only learn how to be the best chef I can be, but also that gender doesn’t matter.
I went to France at a time when women were not two or three Michelin star chefs. I went to France when women were not allowed in French kitchens. I went to two of those kitchens after I got 10 rejection letters from others saying, “Sorry we don’t allow females in the kitchen.” Two Michelin starred chefs, Roger Vergé and George Blanc, both said, “We’ll let you come.” That was at a time when even a lot of my male counterparts were scared to go to France. It’s a tough place to go. You’re dropped in the middle of a kitchen in France, you don’t speak fluent French and they’re the best kitchens in the world to be in.
I just never let gender get in my way. It just was a non-issue for me. It was vapor. If somebody said, “You’re a woman,” I didn’t even hear it. I credit that to my mother who was such a strong woman. I credit that to my grandmother who was a captain in the army — she actually outranked my grandfather at one point. I had strong female role models growing up and then I was lucky enough and blessed enough to have them when I went into the culinary field.
A lot of women still don’t have that and I say today. I still pay it forward everyday to young chefs, whether its female or male. I have a lot of male fans who also want advice — but [my advice] to the females is that it’s a non-issue. Your gender is not an issue and I proved that on “Iron Chef” when people said, ‘She’s going to crash and burn, there’s no way she’s going to keep up with Mario [Batali] and Bobby [Flay] and [Masaharu] Morimoto’. I showed the world that, yeah, I absolutely can cook as fast and as hard as they can.
Originally published in Issue 30 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
TELL US, do you agree with Cat Cora about the role of cannabis in cooking and wellness?