Celebrity chef Cat Cora is best known as a fierce competitor on the Food Network show Iron Chef America. It’s clear in her Guest DJ set that her determination in the kitchen is offset by all the love in her home. Her Guest DJ set is a love letter to her family that spans country, classic soul and more. She also touches on her Greek heritage and the deep connection between food and music.
For More: http://www.catcora.com
1.) (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman- Aretha Franklin
2.) At Last- Etta James
3.) I Hope You Dance- Lee Ann Womack
4.) You're In My Heart- Rod Stewart
5.) Sunshine- Steve Azar
Anne Litt: Hi, I’m Anne Litt and I’m here with celebrity chef Cat Cora, best known as a fierce competitor on the Food Network show Iron Chef America. Today, we will be playing excerpts of songs she’s selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Cat, what did you bring for us?
Cat Cora: I know a lot of people, being a chef, thought I’d come in and it’d be like, “Oh, the Cranberries, Bowling for Soup, Cake,” you know.
These are really milestone songs that I picked because I’ve hit some really great milestones in my life.
AL: The first song you’ve picked is “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, a classic in everybody’s book.
CC: My partner and I, Jennifer, we got married. We had a ceremony almost twelve years ago. We’ve been together twelve years, with four little boys. This was our wedding song, so this was the song we danced to at our wedding. For me, this is a really… I’ve loved this song, “Natural Woman”, forever. Like you said, it’s a classic. For me, it just really fit who we were at the moment and still are today.
CC: For all lovers and even people who have been married for years, there’s nothing more soulful than having music playing.
We have our iPod on our Bose and we turn music on and we’ll listen to everything from the Eagles to Beyonce to the Black Eyed Peas. My kids get in there and dance. For us, music is a big part of our lives. If you walk in our living room, we have a drum set – my 7-year-old plays the drums – we’ve got bongos, we’ve got a couple electric guitars, we’ve got a couple acoustics. We can’t play any of them very well but, you know, we still have them in there. It’s all inspirational for us because music is such a huge part of our lives.
AL: That was Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman”. Up next, you’ve picked a song by Etta James. Tell us about this one.
CC: “At Last”, again, another classic. This was part of our ceremony. When we were driving away in this amazing 1942 convertible, a beautiful white car with flowers, driving away in our wedding dresses, we played “At Last” in the car while we opened a bottle of champagne and kind of started our life together.
AL: Is there a connecting point for you between your Greek heritage and being in the kitchen, is there something musical about it?
CC: I grew up Greek-American, and I grew up in Mississippi, and music is a big part of the Greek culture. The bouzouki music. Growing up in the Greek Orthodox church, celebrations were everything. It was all about the music. If you didn’t have music, the celebration would be half of what it was, a quarter of what it was. If you didn’t have a great bouzouki band at your wedding or baptism or some celebration, it was just tragic. That just didn’t happen. You don’t have a Greek wedding without ouzo and you don’t have a Greek wedding without music.
AL: And don’t you always do a shot of ouzo at the end of your –
CC: Iron Chef, yeah I do. I was cooking with it on that very first battle and it was sitting there and we were so exhausted after doing that first one that we just picked it up and took a shot and that became my little symbol at the end of my show to say: it’s done, it’s over, we did our best.
That’s kind of how life is, you know – it really is about music, food, spirits. I don’t feel like you can have great music without at some point having great food, and I think you can’t have really great food without having some kind of music. I just think it’s so hand-in-hand.
AL: That was Etta James with “At Last” on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Next you have “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. Tell us about this song.
CC: This probably has to be my all-time favorite song.
It’s just so moving. I think it’s just one of those songs when you hear it, it really takes your breath away. And it still does – every single time I hear this song, it takes my breath away. It really is about life. It’s about living life to its fullest and it’s something that I’ve always believed in and it’s something that I try to live by as much as possible every day. To me, this is just one of the most absolutely beautiful songs out there. I think I sent it to my parents at one point and said, ‘you have to listen to this song’. My dad was not well and I said, ‘you’ve got to hear this, it’ll give you some inspiration to remember how big the world is and how important it is that you still dance.’
AL: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. It’s one of Cat Cora’s picks on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
AL: Up next you have a song by Rod Stewart called “In My Heart”. Tell us about this.
CC: The reason I put this on here is for a couple things: it was the first time I ever sang with a band in front of a group of people, ever. And yes, I can carry a tune, I will say.
It was for my wife’s 40th birthday. I have a friend who has an amazing band and I wanted to surprise her so I got up there in front of everybody. And we had practiced a couple times, got up there, and banged it out and it was absolutely great. It was a phenomenal feeling, it sounded pretty darn good – I have to pat myself on the back – and my friend, she’s a great musician, she actually watched it again and sent me a text saying, I watched it again and man, you were just right on it.
To me, it was something that opened me up to a new talent. You never know how good you are until you get up there and get a little bit of feedback, especially from friends because they’ll tell you the truth every time. And it was something I really wanted to share with Jennifer because, to me, that song is such a great love song. It really says everything in a song you want to say to somebody. You’re a symphony, you’re a play, you’re an orchestra, you’re every love song I ever wrote. I mean, it’s just a really absolutely great song.
AL: Let’s hear a bit of In My Heart by Rod Stewart.
AL: And your last song – I have to confess, I’m not familiar with Steve Azar. The song is called “Sunshine”. Would you tell us about Steve Azar?
CC: He’s an up-and-coming singer and hopefully some of you guys will get more familiar with him after you hear me talk about him. He had sent me this song way before it came out and said, hey check this out, what do you think? And I absolutely loved it. It talks about all different loves in life and it’s just, again, one of those beautiful songs that, to me I think, was a total winner for him. He got a lot of great press on it. And for me it’s just a beautiful song and I feel like I’ve got to give props to one of my good friends out there, pay it forward to somebody who’s trying to make it.
AL: If you were to play in a band right now, what would be your instrument of choice?
CC: I don’t do anything halfway, so if I’m going to be in a band I’ve got to be the lead singer. Right? That’s just me. There’s nothing sexier than seeing –
AL: Southern girl with an acoustic guitar –
CC: Southern girl with an acoustic in her hand belting it out.
CC: Done deal.
AL: Cat, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.com.
CC: Thanks, Anne. I appreciate it.
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject.