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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Celebrity chef Cat Cora opens seafood restaurant at RWS

The Mississippi-born celebrity chef is in town this week to launch Ocean Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa.
Asia One - February 3, 2013
By: Eunice Quek
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Celebrity chef Cat Cora opens seafood restaurant at RWS

Iron Chef Cat Cora has an ever expanding empire, with six restaurants, a food and cookware line, and cookbooks.

And there is no stopping the Mississippi-born celebrity chef, who is in town this week for the launch of her latest venture - Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora - at Resorts World Sentosa.

The menu, with dishes culled from her six restaurants in the United States, features "seasonal, light and sustainable seafood" with Mediterranean and Californian accents. Prices for lunch range from $16 to $24 for starters, and $24 to $32 for mains. Dinner prices would be about 10 per cent higher.

Diners can catch the bubbly 45-year-old Greek-American chef at the restaurant from today to Thursday.

And from now to Feb 28, the restaurant will feature a five-course dinner menu ($158++) with specialities such as a starter of sous vide 48 deg C king salmon; sakura shrimp risotto; Arctic char with habanero glaze; and a chocolate dessert that is a take on After Eight mints.

On her decision to open in Singapore, the mother of four boys aged three to nine says: "Singapore was the first Asian city I visited and it has become my Asian home. It is one of the most innovative cities in the world and I believe that something of this magnitude has never been done before.

"It's great to be part of this 'food mecca'; I don't say yes to everything."

Resorts World Sentosa's executive chef for hotels and attractions, Alan Orreal, 44, was instrumental in bringing her in. The Australian-born chef says: "We were looking for another chef to join us and Cat's philosophy and cuisine fit in perfectly. It's also great that she's the first female celebrity chef here."

During her 10-day stay here, she has visited Chinatown, Little India and Tiong Bahru Market to, as chef Orreal says,understand the "Singaporean food psyche".

Cora, who has two brothers, credits her mother, a nurse, and late teacher dad, both keen cooks, on getting her interested in food. Her godfather and grandfather also ran restaurants.

She completed a degree in physiology before joining The Culinary Institute of America at age 25. Her culinary career includes training in France under two three-starred Michelin chefs: Georges Blanc of Vonnas and Roger Verge of Moulin de Mougins. She then moved to Northern California and was chef de cuisine of Bistro Don Giovanni in the Napa Valley.

She made her TV debut in 1999, as a co-host of the Food Network's Melting Pot, with fellow American chef Rocco DiSpirito. Her latest reality show - Around The World In 80 Plates - is co-hosted with Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone. It premieres on TLC (StarHub Channel 427) on March 13.

But it was the call to become an Iron Chef in 2005 that was the "tipping point" for her.

She says: "The Food Network producers called me and I said yes immediately, not knowing what I had to do. It elevated my career, and seven years later, I still enjoy competing."

The reality cooking competition, a spin-off from the original Japanese show, pits challengers against the Iron Chefs. They have 60 minutes to prepare a five-course meal for a panel of industry experts. She says that for all the drama in the Kitchen Stadium, it is a "very serious and intense cooking challenge".

"Many top chefs decline the invitation to join the show. They are afraid they will lose. It takes people of a certain calibre. Maybe I'll take some Singapore chefs over," says Cora, who has won about 60 per cent of her food battles so far.

"If I could, I would introduce sea whelk as a secret ingredient. Imagine trying to grab them out of the water, they'll be flying everywhere," she says with a laugh. She adds: "There's a lot of pressure to win, especially when there are men to compete with. I am there to prove that women can compete too."

Back home in Santa Barbara, her time is split among her six Mediterranean-Greek-influenced restaurants - Cat Cora's Kitchen, Kouzzina and CCQ, which stands for Cat Cora's Que, her take on healthy barbecued food.

Looking to visit Singapore "at least twice a year", Cora is keen to work with her fellow celebrity chefs in Resorts World Sentosa including Joel Robuchon, Scott Webster and Sam Leong.

Upcoming projects include another product line featuring a variety of olive oils, sea salts and spreads as well as a food memoir book.

Cooking aside, Cora, who looks chic in her signature sleek ponytail - will be launching a line of shoes in June, a collaboration with shoe company Ugg.

The sassy chef, who is wearing Michael Kors heels for the interview, says she has about "40 to 50 pairs of shoes" and talks about wanting to meet famed shoe designer Jimmy Choo.

She keeps her svelte frame with 45-minute runs, yoga, meditation and a healthy diet.

She says: "It's about finding balance in food and in life. I can multi-task and I function better as a mum when I'm healthy. I can't do the business forever though, so I'm grooming my sons to take over."

euniceq@sph.com.sg

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