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Cat Cora

How has New Orleans influenced your cuisine?
I grew up in Mississippi and went to the University of Southern Mississippi, so I was really just about 45 minutes away from New Orleans. I grew up coming here, and I grew up eating jambalaya, oysters, étoufée and pralines, and bold flavors like that have an impact. If you start young, it will stay with you forever. Southern food is great on its own, but add Cajun and Creole and it is amazing. New Orleans is like no other place on the planet, and it’s had a huge impact on how I view food and fun and the excitement around food and eating.

What is the one restaurant you have to visit when you come here?
The older ones I grew up with, for sure, like Galatoire’s and Felix’s –– it’s so old school, but it has the best oysters. I’ve had great meals at Emeril’s and Susan Spicer’s restaurants and also at John Besh’s; he’s a good friend of mine. And of course, I go to Mother’s and Central Grocery for the best muffuletta, and I have to get my fix of beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde. So I go the places the tourists go, and then I go to the old joints I know. I mix it up. I think the food scene here is  more exciting than ever.

What are your kitchen essentials?
A Vita-Mix blender and a food processor for sauces, sharp knives, wooden spoons and some stainless steel.

Do you have any longstanding holiday traditions?
Every Christmas Eve, we go to Mass, and then I make Dungeness crab, and we open some good white wine and have friends over, and we drink wine and eat the crab with some good French bread. We call it Crab Bon Natale. It’s how we go into Christmas. And we use the leftover crab in omelettes the next morning.

What recipe do you have to make before it really feels like the holidays?
One is my grandmother’s mustard. It’s this hot, sweet mustard, and we give it as gifts. It’s the perfect gift for those people who have everything. And even if they don’t have everything, they still want this mustard. And then there’s the crab. We haven’t segued into Christmas until we’ve had our crab and gone to Mass.

What are your tips for holiday entertaining?
The best thing to do is start a week before with prep and shopping for anything nonperishable. I mean, when I do the crab, I buy it that day, but there is a lot you can buy ahead of time. And you can go ahead and prep your veggies, make your pies a couple days before. Make as many lists as you can so that when the day comes, you can actually sit down and enjoy it. • Tyler Florence How has New Orleans influenced your cuisine?
New Orleans is that quintessential food trip that every chef must take. It’s Mecca. It’s where you go to learn everything that is real and true about food. This is authentic cuisine; it’s food at its purest. Food in New Orleans is a hybrid of Spanish, African and French, but it’s its own thing, too, and every chef in America has to travel here to get back to the roots. There’s the holy trinity and rouxs that cook down and perfume a stew and the most delicious seafood in America and amazing hospitality. Everything we do as chefs spins off from here, including how to have
a good time. When I step off a plane here, I feel like my palate is home.

What is the one restaurant you have to visit when you come here?
Oh, Mother’s. I stopped off there first thing. And it used to be Uglesich’s, too.

What are your kitchen essentials?
It seems really simple, but honestly, just the basics: pots and pans, a cutting board and knives. You want a large oversize sauté pan –– you need lots of room –– and a pot for soup. You need a nonstick pan for eggs. I’d say spend more money on fewer pieces. It’s like how a $300 pair of shoes will last you three times as long as a $100 pair of shoes. You need a knife that’s about 8 to 10 inches preferably and a paring knife and a bread knife. Finally, you need a big cutting board to chop on –– a big one, like 24 inches by 24 inches, not those tiny ones that are like the size of two sandwiches.

Do you have any longstanding holiday traditions?
My wife and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary on Dec. 2, and we have a 17-month-old and a 2-month-old, so right now we are just beginning to create our own new traditions.

What recipe do you have to make before it really feels like the holidays?
Well, the holidays stretch out all the way from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and I’ve got to say I really love making a turkey. Last year, I deboned a turkey, and then I made this black truffle butter –– I have a great truffle connection –– with rock salt and thyme. Then I spread that in between the skin and the meat and made sage-and-chestnut stuffing to go with it. When you debone a turkey and get rid of all that bone weight, it just stays so moist you wouldn’t believe it. The year before that, I marinated the turkey with sage, clementines and roasted garlic and then grilled it. Every year, I just make it up, and I try to blow everyone away every year.

What are your tips for holiday entertaining?
My most important tip is to keep it simple. It’s always kind of awkward when you invite people over and they show up when things aren’t ready and you’re thinking, “Couldn’t you have been late just this once?” My advice is to do one or two things really well and then spread the load out so everyone else brings a side or a dessert.

That brings a commonality to the meal, too, and there’s no guilt trip; they don’t feel like you’re doing all the cooking, and you don’t feel like you’re going to let them down at all. And I’d recommend really keeping your schedule clear when it comes time to cook. You’re not going to slide into home plate at the bottom of the ninth. It’s going to take the whole day. Everyone wants that Norman Rockwell experience, and we’re never going to get there, but you can get 85 percent there by doing fewer things better and giving yourself plenty of time to do so.   •

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