Cat Cora may have mastered the world of Iron Chefs, but she’s trying something new in her latest show on the Food Network, “America’s Best Cook.” She and three other chefs are each mentoring amateur cooks in an effort to find the best home cooks in the country. They’re each in charge of cooks from their own home regions, with Cora working with the Southern cooks and Alex Guarnaschelli, Tyler Florence and Michael Symon dividing up the rest of the country. Cora says the show is “like ‘The Voice’ meets cooking” and that part of the reason she wanted to get involved was because of how much she loves mentoring young cooks and chefs.
The cooks all come from different walks of life (one early contestant was a correctional officer at a prison) with just one thing in common: a lack of culinary training. Don’t be fooled, though: These amateur cooks are anything but unskilled.
“We were absolutely blown away by all of them,” Cora says, praising “how great they were, and how fast on their feet, and how they work under pressure, and the food that they were able to execute.”
Cora especially loved the chance to work with her old Food Network colleagues on a new show. “We’re all old pals, we all go way back.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t a little trash talking going on among the mentors, though. Despite the fact that she and Guarnaschelli have “a camaraderie about being the only two female Iron Chefs,” Guarnaschelli is apparently an excellent trash talker. “She gets in there and stirs the pot, for sure,” says Cora. “We were smack-talking on Twitter a little bit. It was fun. It’s what makes it exciting.”
Working together for a long time, as all the chefs have, makes for a fun environment, but it also means “we know exactly what buttons to push. It’s like being in a marriage.”
Off the set, though, Cora is a home cook like anybody else, and with four boys in the house, you might think she occasionally has issues with picky eaters. Not true, says Cora: “They’re just all about eating.” She recommends starting kids young on a broad range of food to keep them from developing picky habits.
Catch “America’s Best Cook” on the Food Network on Sundays at 9 p.m. and see who emerges as the best home cook in the country.
Show off your own ‘Iron Chef’ skills
If you’re looking to improve your own skills as a home cook, Cora has some advice. “Just learn to roast a great chicken. That’s a really good dish,” she says. It’s inexpensive, and doesn’t require too much to make it good, as Cora recommends “some herbs on it, olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe a little lemon on it … and just pop it in the oven and roast.” Other options include mastering soups, learning to perfectly grill a hamburger and making a great omelet, which Cora says is one of the first things up-and-coming chefs are tested on. “It seems like the easiest thing in the world to make and it’s not. It’s one of the hardest things to make to get it just perfectly.”
And if you’re thinking of moving into the “Iron Chef” realm, you’d better be prepared to cook quickly. “Work on speed. Work on cutting, chopping an onion really fast. Work on chopping mushrooms really fast,” Cora recommends. Even a grill-off with friends can be a good way to get yourself used to cooking under pressure. But be zen about it: “When you start feeling like you’re going off the rails, just look back down at your food. Just look back down at your cutting board — your food is sitting right there, and you’ll get right back in the zone.”