When Cat Cora appears on TV, she's the hard as nails female chef. After all, she's the first female Iron Chef ... ever. But that's on-screen Cat Cora.
Off-screen Cat Cora is all mom to her sons with wife Jennifer. And in a new children's book that hits shelves today, A Suitcase Surprise for Mommy, she shares one of the hardest parts of merging her two identities: the worker and the mom. Written with her eldest son, 7-year-old Zoran, in mind (the couple also has three younger boys, Nash, Caje, and Thatcher), the book offers a look at how a little boy stays connected to his mom even when she's traveling for work.
The Stir caught up with Cora to find out the recipe for mixing work and motherhood.
This was a very personal book for you; what pushed you to sit down and write it?
I think it was the usual mom guilt. I was actually going on a trip and it was an unusually emotional time for me, and Zoran was getting older and really starting to understand I was going to be gone and wasn't happy about it.
It was really something we were doing already. I would say hey, why don't you give me something really special or sometimes I would just open my bag and there would be something he stuck in there, one of his favorite toys or whatever.
Why did you want to share the story?
When parents travel, I know how hard it is, it's hard being away from your kids, it's hard getting on the road, especially when your kids are really upset and you have to leave and you don't have a choice. For me it was just a way to kind of ease that anxiety for myself and for Zoran, and it works. It makes them feel like this is a way to go along on the trip.
Obviously we see you on TV all the time, and you have to bring home the bacon so to speak, but how do you find the balance having to spend time away from the kids?
The thing is it's really about staying in touch as much as possible, really spending quality time when I'm at home, really giving them lots of attention and quality time together. Having lots of dates with them -- we call them dates that we go on.
It's also just about little special things you do before you leave. For seven years, since Zoran was born, or at least very shortly after that, before I leave -- which is usually very early in the morning, before they're awake -- I take a little spoon out and I put a spoon at each place setting with a little treat on it. I write them a little note and leave it in the center of the table.
So they know, every single time. I've done it for years now, and I do it before every single trip, and I never forget. It's just something so when they get up, they know I'm going to leave, and they look forward to it. It brightens their day. It makes the transition a little easier for them.
You're a chef, so any secrets on ensuring healthy meals? It's got to be hard with one mom working, one mom trying to keep up with four kids!
It's simple things. We don't do grandiose meals. Sometimes the simpler, the better, but it's quality. You know, maybe it's just a really good piece of salmon and some shelled edamame and some brown rice.
We do it pretty simply and then we have Friday night movie nights where we order pizza or make a pizza and watch a movie. We balance that too! We have the nights the kids look forward to, and the nights when we cook healthy.
I would think it would be a relief to come home and have someone else cook for you!
Laughs. It is! But I tell people all the time, when I cook at home, it's just a different experience than I get on the road. When I'm on the road, it's always fast and quick and in and out, and when I'm at home, I can just relax and spend time with the kids and Jennifer and have a glass of wine and cook. It's really low key and easy and slow. It's nice quality time!
Do you follow any of Cat's examples? What are your tips for making life easier for your kids when you're working -- especially if you're going out of town?