Carla Hall is the new Martha Stewart. The Top Chef All Star and co-host of ABC’s wildly successful The Chew, has been – like Stewart – a model and finance professional. Stewart was a stockbroker; Hall was an accountant. Both traded careers in business for food and media situations. As beautiful inside as she is to look at, Hall takes America’s love affair with food and chefs over the top.
Her bubbly personality and desire to uplift and heal the world with comfort food are real, and translate well to an in-the-moment sensibility. We’re hungry for more of her brand of humility and spirituality, and her extra-sensory perception of how, when and why food comes into play the way it does today. Her message is about being in-the-moment and recognizing that moment. It transcends pretty pots and pans, stoneware collections, antique tablecloths and farmhouses bustling with chickens that lay blue eggs.
In town last week to cook alongside Dallas superstar chef Tiffany Derry at Private Social on McKinney, Hall granted interviews – mine was one of the last she did before getting back to cooking for Friday night’s festivities. She’s a darling, delightful creature who does what she says she’s going to do. So I wasn’t a bit surprised when Hall, along with the elegant Tiffany Derry and an entourage that included Top Chef Season Seven winner Kevin Sbraga, turned up as promised to catch my show at The Balcony Club in Lakewood Saturday night. They were recognized immediately by the jazz audience and caused quite a stir, further proof that Dallas Knows Food.
Tiffany Derry’s Private Social is one of the most beloved restaurants in DFW, and Carla Hall’s latest endeavor is Alchemy by Carla Hall, a line of petite cookies currently available in several Whole Foods Markets.
How did you wind up on national TV?
First, I have to tell you I love your hair. I’m such a girly girl. Nobody knows that about me. I love earrings, colors. I will often go up to people and ask to take a picture.
My first Top Chef was in 2007, but before that I did a show on the Food Network called “Food Fight.” I had gone to culinary school with the producer. You’d be shown the main ingredient – chicken or whatever – and then you’d have $20 to drive to the grocery store for ingredients to go with whatever that was. Then you’d make a dish for the three judges.
The cameramen were afraid to drive with me, which I never understood because I’m a really good driver.
What’s been the most challenging thing about The Chew?
Being on Top Chef was different from being a host. You do what you do and the cameras just happen to be there. Being a host is different. For one thing, someone is always talking in your ear. My mother has said that I was always stubborn and could ignore people, and I use that skill to be able to connect with the person I’m talking to on the air and be in the moment with them even while the producers are talking in my ear. For the first three months, I would go home crying. I was afraid that I’d get fired. I’m an over-achiever, and I want to be good at what I do. I have to love it. It’s really hard to do something you don’t love.
What led up to all of these things happening?
I was an accountant. I worked for Price-Waterhouse. I had wanted to go to Boston University, to the conservatory there and major in theater. I was the goofy kid – tall, lanky and shy – who had misfit friends. I had gone to theater school and had done children’s theater but Boston University was going to delay my admission, so I went to Howard University and majored in accounting instead. I was a good student; I graduated with honors. One day in Tampa, Florida, it hit me and I saw that this couldn’t be me at 40. So I quit, and I went to Paris – I knew ten words of French – and that’s when I found food. Paris was the bridge to finding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
What frightens you?
I’m not afraid to be real. That comes from my family, and spirituality. At the end of the day, you just have to be yourself.
My biggest fear is failure. I’m competing against myself. Success has also been a big fear – as in what does it mean, and what will I have to do? But I don’t know if I want to know. I want to be able to enjoy the journey in getting there.
What have you learned?
On Top Chef, you got feedback. At the bottom - and at the top, in front of the judges. I wanted the feedback; I wanted to learn from it.
I learn from watching Tiffany (Derry). She’s a great chef; she delegates the work, not the vision. I want to always own my failures as well as my successes.
Do you sometimes punish yourself?
I see that as a blessing. When I was selected to be on Top Chef, I thought it was a prank call. I believe I’m here for a reason, and I’m finding out all the time what that is. Sometimes I think that I can’t do it, but I believe that there’s a bigger plan. It’s not about me; it’s about getting to know people and getting to know what I can do in the bigger picture.
You’re a female chef, on national TV, and it’s no longer really about competition. The show was just renewed for a second season. It’s all good; you must be on Cloud Nine!
Really great male chefs will tell their cooks they need to get some feminine energy into their food – the love and nurturing. It’s great to see that women chefs are being honored and respected.
I’m by no means perfect, but the producers of the show have allowed me to be me. They are open to “whatever.” The creative energy is amazing; they listen to our ideas.
I have an incredible, supportive husband – we met on Match.com and were married a year later – and I have a job that I love. I have a cookbook coming out, and a company, Alchemy by Carla Hall. I’m a big kid at heart. I started out with a lunch delivery service, delivering food to companies that I carried in a baby’s bassinet.
It’s a good thing you’re strong.
I am strong. And I cook with whole ingredients. Less is more. Food is about love. I’m 48 years old, and having the time of my life!