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Many Faces of Riviera's Godmother

ON THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA — So how does a Greek girl from the Southern United States become the Godmother for life of a cruise ship that will visit, among other places, her ancestral home?

She becomes Cat Cora.

There is likely a whole segment of the population that doesn't know who Cat Cora is. That is changing with each extension of her brand. The latest one is becoming Godmother of the Oceania Riviera, which for a few weeks will be the newest cruise ship in the world. It will be a special cruise ship — mid-sized, upper deluxe and created for the love of food — for longer than that.

In other words, people who know the world of Cat Cora.

For those who do not, she is indeed the girl of Greek lineage who grew up in Mississippi learning how to cook from not just her mother but her father Spiro and her godfather, both of whom were southern restaurateurs. After achieving degrees in physiology and nutrition, she launched what was to become a spectacular career in the food industry.

First (and still only) female Iron Chef. A protege of the late Julia Child, who was even more famous. Graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. On television, a Food Network regular for more than a decade and, most recently, as co-host of Around the World in 80 Plates, a reality TV show based on Amazing Race but for "foodies." Author of three best-selling cookbooks and a children's book to comfort kids and parents alike when travel takes them apart.

She apprenticed under three-star Michelin chefs from France, Georges Blanc and Roger Verge.

"I sent letters to ten three-star Michelin chefs — that's the highest ranking in the world — and told them I would work for free," she says. "I received eight rejection letters in a row. Then I had offers from both Georges Blanc and Roger Verge. I said yes to both. Can you believe a girl with a funny accent, a five-foot-two young chef from Mississippi, would even think that would work?"

Her credits also include her admirable founding of Chefs For Humanity.

"I was always taught to give back and this is my labor of live," says the 44-year-old mother of four. "There was no organization like Doctors Without Borders. We're only the only chef-driven organization that does this. We started after the tsunami in Indonesia seven years ago [and later fed  three to five thousand people a day after Hurricane Katrina] and today we continue to do not only domestic but global work, working with the World Food Program and a lot of other partners."

Her friendship with Julia Child was instrumental in what she would become.

"I really wanted to go because I wanted to be a great chef," says Cora. "If you have a passion for something, anything, the rest of it will come. I keep my feet planted. I remember why I started, for my love of food. After I got my college degree, I said: 'Now I'm going to pursue my first love.' People are eating healthier now. That brings my worlds together."

All of the accolades and credits led her to the Riviera. It is the newest Oceania property of a fleet linked to fine food in an industry that traditionally focuses on food. In its main concourse hangs her picture, for the traditional title that is part of virtually every cruise ship.

It's a title Cat Cora will wear for the life of the Riviera.

Celebrity Equinox
10 nights
June 22, 2012
Rome (return): Messina, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, Naples
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $90

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