Carla Hall Reveals Her Favorite Recipes To Make With Tostitos - Exclusive Interview

Chef Carla Hall has navigated many careers over the years. She is perhaps best known as a stand-out competitor on "Top Chef" and "Top Chef: All Stars," as well as being a host on "Worst Cooks in America," talk show "The Chew," and many more food television favorites. The best-selling author and television staple's success in the culinary world wasn't a given, however. Hall went to Howard University's business school and worked as an accountant after graduation. After a couple of years, she decided to travel across Europe as a runway and print model, before her passion for food could translate into the possibility of new career. She returned to the U.S., attended culinary school and worked in kitchens around Washington D.C., before starting her own culinary business and specialty cookie line. Today, Hall is also known for writing multiple cooks centered around Soul Food and comfort food.

Chef Hall spoke with Mashed about her latest book set for release in November, wrapping Season Four of "Best Baker in America," and partnering with Tostitos for approachable and innovative recipes just in time for backyard barbecues. If you follow Chef Hall on social media, you already know she is serious about a hot dog. Her latest take on a corn dog might be the most surprising take we've heard yet. Then again, after a track record like Hall's, would we expect any less?

Carla Hall talks Best Baker in America

Season Four of "Best Baker in America" just wrapped. Could you tell us, is there anything that happens behind the scenes that viewers don't get to see?

The one thing that happened this season, they showed a little bit of it, and that's when the power went off, so the power was down for a while and the power came back up and it went back down. We made it seem like it was really fast in the show, but that power was off for a while. 

What else happens? There were a lot of tears this season, but the one thing that was true — and I don't know if you got the sense of it — the bakers all worked so well together and they were just so nice. We just talked about it the entire time, how nice they were. But, "Best Baker" was filmed earlier in the year, in May, so it happened way early and everybody has to keep everything close to their chest. But, I think I walked away feeling like, oh, what nice people, just truly nice and sharing a lot with each other.

Carla Hall dishes on her latest food-focused book

Then you also have your latest book, "Carla and the Christmas Cornbread," coming out in November this year. What can you tell us about it?

I am so excited. Imagine me in 1974 [or 1972]. I am probably 8 years old going to my grandmother's house. So, even though this book is about 'Carla and the Christmas Cornbread,' it really is taking a page out of my life and how on every Sunday we used to go to my grandmother's house, and she lives in Lebanon, Tennessee, and just what the Christmas holidays were like. The food laid out. I never baked with my grandmother, so if I could go back and do it again, I would bake more with her. So, we're making the cornbread that she would often make. Well, she always made it by herself.

I think it's an opportunity to not only see what my childhood was like, but also, look at your childhood and just connect with your grandparents and your parents and have those memories and even record them. I think that people don't think about just recording stories of their grandparents and just encouraging people to sort of document those memories and have those special memories so that they can live on forever.

Chef Carla Hall's most memorable moment from "Top Chef"

You've been on cooking competitions. You've been a host. You've been a competitor. Do you have maybe a memorable moment that really stands out in your mind?

I mean, in terms of competing, one of the big moments was when I was on "Top Chef" and Jacque Pepin [French-born chef], whom I knew just from ... I went to a French cooking school. So, he was pretty much a hero of mine. I just love the way he works with his hands and he was having my squab and peas on the all-stars season of "Top Chef," and he said he could die happy. To have somebody that you look up to give you that feedback, was like winning an Oscar for me. That was one of my favorite moments. Hands down, to this very day.

Carla Hall's tips for cooking at home

You're really known for comfort food, soul food and baking. Do you have any tips for readers who want to try something at home, maybe something new, or like you said, something that they grew up with?

Well, I think, and one of the things that I do with these recipes, I take something that is familiar and turn it on its head. I may use a different spice. I think in the case — and I'm using Tostitos because we're talking about that — but think of it as corn. How would you introduce corn in a particular recipe? 

Let's say, I do a recipe that's a corn salad. How might you introduce another crunch for texture? So, maybe you take the Tostitos and toss them with a spice and have that over a salad. That's how you update a dish. I mean, think about the ingredients, pull them apart and how can you introduce another version of that ingredient? That's how you start to create, and you just keep doing that and then you find these wonderful surprises, and you find family favorites, and that's how you get to something that nobody else has, but you and your family. I encourage people to play with their food.

Unexpected next day recipes with Tostitos

You've teamed up with Tostitos for Next Day Delicious to create recipes that create fun new foods using 4th of July leftovers. Tell us more about how you joined this campaign, and some of the recipes you'll be sharing via social media on July 5.

Okay. I love 4th of July because it's one of those holidays that brings everybody together, and I think this year it's going to be particularly special because everything is opening up in the country and you can have bigger gatherings, which means you're going to have more food. But, because you have so much food, what are you going to do the day after? You've already put some work in on the fourth and I am saying to you, keep the party going. I was excited to think about The Next Day Delicious campaign so that I could give people ideas of what they were going to do with all of those leftover dishes.

I love that you're making sure there's no food waste, and then you can also create something new. Could you tell us a little bit about the recipes themselves?

There are two recipes that I want to share with you today. I don't think that people think about dessert or something sweet when it comes to Tostitos. However, for the cookouts, everybody pulls out — especially at night, it starts to get dark — you pull out your sticks. You pull out the chocolate and the marshmallows and the graham crackers. I'm turning that on its head and doing a spicy Tostitos s'more with a habanero bite-size chip. It is absolutely delicious because it's spicy, it's sweet, it's bitter, and then you have the spice mix, which you can use on these s'mores, but you could use it in other places too, like cinnamon toast or something like that, with your Tostitos. But, it is wonderful, and you sandwich that chocolate and the marshmallow and the habanero chips together and just squeeze it and it's a two biter, but I just put the whole thing in my mouth because I want to experience the whole thing.

Sounds wonderful.

The other one, I love a corn dog. For me, corn dogs remind me of the fair and fairs always during the summer. But, we always do a lot of hot dogs. I mean, we actually, my husband and I, Matthew, have hot dog night at home... Anyway, [it's a] personal thing.

But, you can take those leftover hot dogs, because you know you do a lot of hot dogs. Whenever you are grilling out, you take the whole pack. I don't care how many people are there. You are going to grill the entire pack of hot dogs because it's easy. It's fast. What are you going to do with the leftovers? I say, use those leftover hotdogs to make the Tostitos crusted corn dogs. There is mustard in the cornmeal mix. You dip the hot dog. You have the batter in a glass. So, you dip that skewered hot dog into the batter and then you roll it into those crunchy Tostitos crumbs. So, if you have a bag that's right at the end, don't throw it away. Use those to roll in that hot dog and the corn dog mixture. Then you fry them and then you to finish it with mayonnaise, catsup and cilantro and it is delicious.

I'm just trying to get people to think about how they would use those leftovers. There's so many more recipes where those came from, but those are two that I'm sharing [on July 5].

Watch Carla Hall share her Tostitos Next Day Delicious recipes through bite-size cooking videos on social media on July 5.