The Untold Truth Of Carla Hall

Television viewers first met chef Carla Hall in the fifth season of Top Chef, where she won accolades (and Super Bowl tickets!) for her take on Cajun-style gumbo. Although she didn't emerge victorious, Hall did win something even more valuable: the hearts of viewers, becoming a fan favorite for her inventive recipes, vivacious personality and inimitable "hootie hoo!" catchphrase.

Hall was such a hit that when Top Chef held its 2011 all-stars edition in season eight, there was no question she would be a part of it. Even though Hall was once again eliminated, later that year she was tapped to be one of the co-hosts of The Chew, ABC's new-concept daytime talk show that melded food and lifestyle. For the next few years, Hall spent weekdays with viewers alongside co-hosts, fellow chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon, former What Not to Wear star Clinton Kelly, and nutrition expert Daphne Oz.

After all those Top Chef appearances and 1,500 episodes of The Chew, there's still plenty for fans to learn about Carla Hall, so read on to learn the untold truth of this fascinating celebrity chef.

Accounting and modeling led to Carla Hall's food career

Before becoming a professional chef and then TV personality, Carla Hall was working as an accountant and part-time model. "I really hated my job as an accountant," Hall admitted in an interview with the Institute of Culinary Education's blog, Diced. When some models she knew planned a trip to Paris, she decided to tag along. Hall liked the City of Lights so much she wound up living there for a few years, where her interest in food took flight. "I started cooking for the people I was staying with and buying cookbooks," she said.

When she returned stateside, Hall launched a small catering business, "really as a fluke." However, that "fluke" began taking off over the next few years, and its success led Hall to a crossroads. She knew if she was going to pursue a future in food, it was time to go all in. This led to Hall's decision, at age 30 to take it to the next level by enrolling in culinary school. "I felt I had the practical training from my own business but I wanted the theory and the classical training," she said. "I knew I needed culinary school for that."

Carla Hall was a late bloomer in the kitchen

Carla Hall was not one of those chefs who observed parents cooking meals in the kitchen, dreaming of eventually creating her own culinary concoctions and one day owning her own restaurant. As Hall told the Daily Hive, "Surprisingly I did not cook as a child. I ate but I did not cook." In fact, she revealed she didn't really have any interest in cooking until she was in her mid-20s.

She shared the surprisingly simple philosophy of food she's developed over the years, derived from her varied combined experiences. "I really think that it's making something that people like," she said. "You make people happy. I know in my family it is up to me to create those food memories. For Thanksgiving after my cookbook came out I gave each of my family members a page to do and they did it and it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners we ever had."

Why Carla Hall almost didn't return to Top Chef

Appearing on Top Chef was instrumental in transforming Carla Hall from anonymous chef into a celebrity, particularly when she returned for the all-stars season. However, if she had listened to the advice she was given, she never would have returned to the show for season eight.

In an interview with Bravo's Starving for Attention podcast, Hall told hosts Richard and Jazmin Blais that "my PR agency said, 'You really shouldn't do Top Chef because you don't know what's going to happen — plus you're trying to really break away into your own brand.'"

She opted to ignore that advice. "I decided to do it," recalled Hall, but only later began to second-guess herself when she realized the potential downside. "And then you don't want to be the first one kicked off. You're like, 'Was the first season, for me season five, a fluke?' Making it to the final... Then you feel like, 'I'm the old one, and I'm a caterer, and I'm not in that restaurant world of everyone else.' You're underestimated..."

Carla Hall revealed the worst job she's ever held in the food industry

While Carla Hall admitted she "doesn't consider" herself to be a celebrity chef, that is how she's considered these days. However, long before the television fame she paid her dues in the culinary arts, and not all of those jobs were great ones.

In fact, she considers one job to be the worst she's ever held in the food industry — and it's one that many aspiring chefs would be thrilled to have. "I worked in the Bahamas as a private chef. It is not as glamorous as you'd think," she revealed in an interview with Tasting Table. "It got to a point where I just wanted to fire the client and go home, and that was really tough."

As Hall recalled, she was the only chef on duty, and "had to cook every day for 14 people, three meals a day. I didn't have any support, so I'd finish one meal and have to go right into the next. I literally worked an 18-hour day, passed out and got up to do it over again."

Carla Hall spoke out about Mario Batali's sexual assault allegations

In 2017, Carla Hall's co-host on The Chew, Mario Batali, was hit with allegations of sexual assault, which ultimately caused him to divest himself from the restaurant empire he co-owned with Joe Bastianch, and led ABC to fire him from the show.

When asked about Batali in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Hall was diplomatic. "I didn't have those experiences," she said. "He was generous with his knowledge of the industry... I feel for the women who had to go through that. I believe them. It's tough, when you know the person in a different environment."

Following Batali's firing, in May 2018 ABC made the decision to cancel The Chew — though they didn't relate the cancelling to Batali. At the time, Hall told People that she had kept touch with her former co-host. "He's doing all the good work that he was doing before, and being reflective," she said. "He's such a good guy and all the other work that he's done. He says he's working on stuff, you know, as we all are. No one is perfect. We have challenges."

Carla Hall had a revelation about herself when The Chew was cancelled

When ABC decided to cancel The Chew after seven seasons, Carla Hall was able to reflect on the experience. Admitting she "felt snarky" when the show was first cancelled, Hall told The Kitchn she initially experienced "disbelief and sadness, and then there was this moment of Okay, so what's next?" 

She decided to take the next year "to play" in hopes of understanding what she was meant to take from the experience on the show. "I probably would have never left that job unless I got fired or it ended," she admitted. "Now I'm taking advantage of all the things that I learned and using it elsewhere."

As Hall explained, the biggest end result of all those years on The Chew is that "I know how to do food television. There was a time when I didn't and I wasn't comfortable with it. I think that how to multi-task on television, where you're talking to someone, cooking, and doing so many other things, my interviewing skills have gotten better. Just being relaxed."

Why Carla Hall wrote a cookbook focusing on soul food

In October 2018, Carla Hall published her first cookbook, a tribute to her Southern heritage titled Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration.

In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, Hall said that the idea for a soul food cookbook came to her after she received the results of a DNA test revealing her ancestors came from West Africa. "I started thinking, 'If my ancestors came from West Africa today, how would they be eating?'" she shared. Given her declaration that Southern soul food "is part of my DNA," she set about on a mission of "reclaiming" soul food by creating healthier versions of some of the familiar favorites that she grew up with. "I started thinking about stripping away all of the additional fat that we've been putting on dishes," she explained.

"I think soul food is unfairly judged because people are looking at it through a very narrow lens," she told People, pointing out that when people think of "soul food" what they're really considering are "celebration foods" such as "mac and cheese, and greens, and fried chicken," adding that "nobody ate like that every day."

Carla Hall's biggest cooking pet peeve

Carla Hall is known for her ready smile and sunny disposition, but, like anyone, she can become annoyed. That is particularly true in the kitchen, and she revealed her biggest culinary pet peeve with PopSugar. "My biggest cooking pet peeve is when people think to add bacon to everything, to add truffles to everything," Hall griped.

The way she sees it, when chefs feel the need to add intense flavors such as these to their dishes in an attempt to "elevate their food," what actually happens is that it often ends up masking a weak cooking technique. "When people don't taste or when they're not connected to their food, I think it's style over substance," Hall explained. "It makes it sound fancy, but I think people don't appreciate simple food sometimes."

She shared another of her pet peeves with the Washington Post: old-school TV cooking shows that pretend "nobody messes up" in the kitchen, which she believes sets unrealistic goals for people watching at home who'd like to attempt the recipes they see on television. "I think that's why people feel intimidated" by cooking, she added.

The weird health practice Carla Hall swears by

Carla Hall has a variety of tips and techniques she uses to stay healthy, and one of these is something known as oil pulling. As she told her Twitter followers when posting a link describing the practice, she admitted oil pulling has become "part of my new morning ritual."

Speaking with Rodale's Organic Life, reprinted by Yahoo! News, Hall first tried the ancient Ayurvedic practice when she found a bout of sinus congestion was hampering her ability to taste food. "It's like an athlete having to work out," she explained. "I have to do what I can to maintain the integrity of my palette."

Oil pulling involves swishing oil in one's mouth, under the belief that the oil attaches to bacteria deeply embedded in the teeth and gums, and then "pulls" these toxins out. Hall said she swears by it. "The first thing I noticed was my sinuses were running. Now my nose is so wide open, I feel like a super taster," she declared, admitting it felt strange the first time. "Give it a week," she advised oil-pulling newbies, adding, "anything you can do that will help your health that's really easy, I'm all for it."

Carla Hall raised money to open her NYC restaurant by launching a Kickstarter

After her Top Chef fame led her to The Chew and even further television success, Carla Hall found herself in a somewhat unique position as a so-called celebrity chef who didn't have a restaurant. To rectify this, in May 2016 she opened Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen in Brooklyn — and shut it down the following year.

In a 2017 talk at Nation's Restaurant News MUFSO conference, reported Eater, Hall discussed how she raised money to open the restaurant by launching a Kickstarter campaign — something she later came to regret. Although the effort ultimately raised more than a quarter-million dollars, she also came to believe that was "really what ultimately led to our downfall," when some fans expressed outrage that a rich, famous TV star would be soliciting donations from her fans. "It's an understatement to tell you that I got beat up by the social media community for using Kickstarter," she said.

In addition, she also believes she launched the campaign too early, nearly two years before the restaurant opened its doors. "So, we had all these people basically asking us, 'What's up? Are you stealing our money?'"

The biggest lessons she's learned from the failure of her NYC restaurant

According to Eater, Hall reflected on the failure of her Brooklyn restaurant, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen, during a 2017 talk at Nation's Restaurant News MUFSO conference, sharing the lessons she learned from the experience. 

One key thing she came to realize was that, because of her busy schedule on The Chew and other varied obligations, she didn't leave herself enough time to launch a new restaurant. "What I've learned is that being famous does help, [but you] still need to physically carve out the hours on the ground to execute your vision, and a vision doesn't build itself," she admitted. "Even though I'm doing all of those [other] things, I had a restaurant and I still needed to be there."

Another lesson she learned is to focus on the here and now, not on a potential future that may never materialize. "Because of my notoriety there was a tremendous amount of focus put on the restaurant's branding from day one," she said. "We were creating a brand that would become a future chain... so, we weren't even working on the present. We were working in the future." 

How Carla Hall stays healthy on the road

As a busy celebrity with a jam-packed schedule of appearances all over the world, Carla Hall is on the road a lot. Travelling and maintaining a good health-and-fitness regime do not always go hand in hand — which Carla Hall found out firsthand when she was promoting a cookbook devoted to soul food. Speaking with Cooking Light, Hall revealed that she learned to resist the temptation when, in every city she visited, she'd invariably be pointed to the best local soul food restaurants. "I talk about soul food and celebrations every day, but I tell them I have to have some everyday food. I can't celebrate every day. Most of the time, I go for beans and greens and raw foods," she explained. 

Hall also emphasized the importance of listening to one's body, insisting that exercising is a great way to find out if your diet is actually working for you. "If you eat the wrong thing, and then go work out, your body will be like, 'Oh my God, what did you put in me?'" she joked. 

Carla Hall revealed the five best meals she's ever had

What are the best meals that Carla Hall has ever eaten? That's the question that Bon Appetit posed to her, and she offered her top five. First up, the "Cereal" dessert at Alliance in northern Michigan, consisting of "granola, nuts and seeds in a bowl with some blueberries," topped with a sunchoke "milk." Also in her top five: an "incredible mushroom risotto" that she ate in the home of a Scottish woman named Bumble.

Also making the list was a "tea pairing" at the Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio's since-shuttered Colicchio & Sons, after she took a class on pairing tea with food and felt "like I found a new religion." Another fave in her top five is a cauliflower tempura with steamed Chinese bao at Nix, in NYC's Union Square.

Finally, Hall singles out the asian-braised oxtail at Brooklyn's Cooks & Captains that "amazed me so much that I almost don't want to talk about it, because it's a weekend special and they sell out... the meat is fall-off-the-bone, and I think of it all the time."

Carla Hall is judging a new food competition show for Netflix

Once a Top Chef competitor, Carla Hall will head to the other side of the judges' table in Crazy Delicious, a new six-episode TV culinary competition co-produced by Netflix and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, set to air in 2020.

Along with Hall, the other two judges are Swedish chef and restaurateur Niklas Ekstedt and Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck. According to a Channel 4 press release, the trio won't be called judges, but will instead be referred to as "Food Gods." The show's format will pit "three passionate and inventive cooks" against each other in a culinary competition, where they must "work magic with commonplace ingredients, such as the humble carrot..." The goal: to create a meal that is both "a taste sensation and a feast for the eyes."

"Being a part of Crazy Delicious has been such a joy," said Hall in the release. "We have been given some truly delicious dishes to try and, at times, we've had our minds blown. I think the viewers are going to be really impressed by the crazy twists on those meals we're all so used to making on a daily basis."