Culinarily Delightful: Carla Hall of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’

When I think of Carla Hall of season five of Bravo’s Top Chef, I just have to smile. What’s not to love about her wonderful mop of curly hair, funky glasses and way of making quirky seem so very cool?  And what’s not to love about her dedication to the culinary arts as demonstrated by the mastery of the tasks set before her each week which led inclusion in the show’s finale?

No, Carla, didn’t win the big prize. But she did win my respect and admiration. And I am sure that I’m not the only one.

As a lifetime member of Team Carla, I decided to reach out to our fearless leader and get her thoughts about Top Chef and cooking tips for those of us who can’t boil water.

The Ride: Hey Carla. By the way, love the name…Carla. I have to tell you that I’m in mourning right now.  I just knew you were going to take the top prize in Top Chef and after that didn’t happen, I felt you were a shoe-in for fan favorite.  How are you holding up? Me, I’m not so good.
Carla: Hey Carla.  Yes, I love the name, AND the spelling!  I’m holding up just fine, and so should you.  For the Finale, I simply did not make the best meal of the evening. I dropped the ball.  I also learned that I should delegate the work, not the vision.  As far as fan favorite goes…well, I think it was between Fabio and me in the end.  It was a close race.

The Ride: By the way, what led you to try out for the show?
Carla: One day a co-worker told me she dreamt that I was on the show.  That same day, I received a call from the production company, because a friend submitted my name.  The serendipitous nature of the two unrelated events propelled me to submit that loooooong application.

The Ride: Know you Carla, you made this Carla proud when you didn’t resort to usual underhanded, backstabbing nonsense that we see on most reality TV shows.  How did you keep from being sucked into that vortex?
Carla: My goal was to overcome my fear of failure and judgment.  That fear had nothing to do with the other chefs.  I wanted every cheftestant to do well.

The Ride:  I have to ask, did you read/hear what Casey Thompson (I hate that that heffa has my last name) said about you regarding your performance in the finale? (via the blog, Sidedish).  If you haven’t, needless to say, it wasn’t very complimentary. Looks like sistah was trying to do a bit of damage control on her end.
Carla: Casey was probably upset with the way she was portrayed (bossy and overbearing), and she lashed out at me.  She was upset.  I did not agree with how she handled it, but I understood.  I felt badly that the bloggers were blaming her for what I totally took responsibility for.

The Ride: Enough about that mess.  Let’s move on.  Sound good to you?
Carla: Sure.

The Ride: A friend of mine wanted to know about life between challenges.  Were you allowed to go out by yourself to freely roam the streets of New York?  Or were you under lock and key, your whereabouts carefully monitored by some GPS-like tracking system?
Carla: We were not free at all!  We were all sequestered in the apartment.  Some were stir crazy; I was having “down” time.

The Ride:  Same friend said that, in a former life, you were a runway model for designer Betsey Johnson. Is this true?
Carla: I was a runway model for three years.  I was young, and I bounced around New York, Paris, Milan and London.  Some of the designers I worked with were Betsey Johnson, Jaeger, Workers for Freedom and Yeohlee.

[The Ride: Very cool.]

The Ride: Carla, since you have become a friend in my head, I need the benefit of your cooking expertise. I have a confession to make:  I can’t boil water.  Really, it’s true. I put the water in the pot. Turn on the stove. Leave the kitchen only to return when I start to smell the pot burning, water completely evaporated. It’s too sad.

Is there something simple that I can cook to keep from starving to death and/or burning down my apartment building?  I think I can handle breakfast. Do you have any recommendations for lunch?

Carla: The first thing I have to say is cooking is an interactive sport.  You have to participate in it, care about it, at least LIKE it.  Let’s start with a good sandwich – think about the bread, the filling/meat/cheese, the spread (how ’bout a pesto of some sort), and the fixin’s.  As long as you make each choice a conscious one, the sandwich will be great.

The Ride: I’m not a foodie, as you might have figured out. I do go out for dinner sometimes. I’ve never eaten French cuisine, which is your specialty. If I happen to go to a French restaurant, what should I try? FYI: I’m allergic to shellfish.
Carla: Do you eat meat?

The Ride: Yes.
Carla: I’d do the classic Steak Frites (steak and fries) which will probably come with a yummy aioli (a garlic mayo.)  I think you can tell a lot about a restaurant when the simple dishes are prepared well.

The Ride: Thanks Carla. My stomach thanks you. The New York City Fire Department thanks you…Just curious, what has your life been like post-Top Chef?
Carla: In a word, BUSY, but gratifying.  I spend a lot of time saying hello to my new friends, shaking hands and taking pictures.  My catering business is booming (Thanks Top Chef!)

The Ride: What can we expect from you in the future?
Carla: I hope to launch a retail line of petite sweet and savory cookies.  In a perfect world, I would move my catering business into midtown DC with a teaching kitchen, a chef’s table, and event and retail space. Everything but a lap pool.  [laughs]

The Ride:  One last question, a fun one:  Who is your favorite cartoon character?  Mine is SpongeBob Squarepants.
Carla: OMG…SpongeBob for me too!  Mr. Krab says, “I didn’t want to tell you in front of the fellas, but, er, that hat makes you look like a girl.”  And SpongeBob replies, “But am I a prrrrettty girrrrrl?”

The Ride: Thank you very much Carla.  You’re the best!

Attention members of Team Carla.  Carla is on Twitter @carlahall. Also, check out Carla’s catering company, Alchemy Caterers. For more info, click here.

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