They say life is a journey of discovery. Some of us find ourselves early in life and we spend our time focused on goals we set at an early age. For others, the journey takes us down diverse paths as we search for who we are, trying to find the passion or direction that finally fulfills. For The Chew's Carla Hall, her inspiration and passion came later in life, transforming and shaping her into the lovely lady who graces our television sets each day. She is full of joy, laughter and an infectious enthusiasm for life and things culinary.
Carla grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Her influence early on with regard to food came from her two grandmothers, Thelma and Freddie Mae. Carla explained, "Back in the day, we did not eat out very much, we ate at home. I remember every time we went to my grandmother's house for Sunday supper. We went there after church every Sunday and to this day those are still my favorite foods. She made a lot of food. But, I was not interested in cooking. I was into the eating," she laughed. "Being from the south, every holiday or life event is all around food. Weddings, births, deaths, what we did is eat." As an Italian, I fully understand that philosophy. For southerners, as well as for folks of my heritage, the heart of the house is the kitchen. I asked Carla what her favorite food her grandma made and without hesitation she answered, "My Grandmother Thelma made this amazing fried chicken. Her recipe was so simple, just a bit of salt and pepper, but it was so tender and juicy.
"Thelma was the one who cooked lots of food," she continued, "and we would eat with her during the week. Grandma Freddie Mae's house is where we went on Sundays. That was more of an 'event' with more of the 'holiday foods'. She would make this corn bread, but she would never put it into the oven until we were on the inside of the door to her house. Now, we came to her house every Sunday right about the same time, but she would never make that cornbread until we were all inside that door. She would never start it before, no matter what. For me, as a kid, it was torture actually because we knew that we wouldn't eat for another 20 minutes and it seemed like longest 20 minutes of my life. I used to wish that my parents could call her and say we were on the way, so it would be ready when we got there. It wasn't like it was a surprise party or anything," she laughed, "she knew we were coming, but it was about her always wanting things to be perfect, with the bread coming fresh out of the oven while we were there."
In high school, when picking a career direction and major in college Carla chose accounting. She explained that she really liked her accounting teacher, which influenced her decision on a major. But, her true passion was for the theater and the performing arts. She loved performing. "I did theater and performed from 12 to 17. I loved it. I was on track to go to a conservatory and major in theater. I wanted to go to Boston University and it was the only school that I applied for. Unfortunately, they were going to defer my admission. I was shocked!" she exclaimed. Hall then followed her sister with a late admission to Howard University, where she received a degree in accounting. Interestingly enough she has been quoted as saying, "I knew as soon as I passed my CPA exam, I wasn't going to be an accountant." She decided to go to Europe and model and it was there, traveling through Europe, that awakened her passion for food and inspired a new career path. I asked her to expand on the experience.
It was during this time in Europe that the seed and love of culinary was awakened in Carla. I asked her to explain. "First of all," she offered, "I was in a foreign country and there were a lot of American models. On Sundays, we all got together and we would do this big brunch. It was all about the food and making food that made us all feel at home (America). We would make things like Buffalo Wings, or Macaroni and Cheese. I remember running to the market to get turnip greens before they would throw them away, because they would cut them off and sell the turnips, but would throw away the greens. It was all about a reminder of home. The girls would all compare 'my mom made it like this,' etc. and I had no idea how anything was made because as a kid, as I mentioned, I was just waiting to eat the food, not paying attention to how it was made. I became fascinated. I started buying cookbooks. I gave myself the time to figure it out. Not having to worry about a job allowed me to really figure it out at my own pace. I was having an experience and I realized it at the time. Yes, I was running around, looking for modeling jobs but, I knew this was not going to be my career. I allowed myself the time to really learn about cooking. I got to travel and make food, taste and explore the food of Europe. When I came back to the States, I lived with friends, not having my own place, so I started making food and cleaning. My way of paying them back was to cook for them."
Carla then moved to Washington, D.C. to be with her sister and it was there that she and a friend opened a lunch delivery service as a fluke and, as she put it, "I became 'The Lunch Lady' for 5 years. I made sandwiches. Lots of sandwiches," she remembered chuckling, "I made cakes and biscuits. I had this whole little concept. Mostly turkey, no beef or pork. Healthy salads and such and on Fridays I would make something special. We called it 'The Lunch Bunch.' It was originally The Lunch Basket, because that's how I originally delivered the food. I started with a few clients which then turned into more clients and at its height I probably had about 25 regulars. I bought a used mail truck for about $200. It had one seat and a cooler in the back. It was hard work."
This is where Hall explained to me that she knew she had finally found herself, her direction and her career path. "I knew because it was hard work, yet I still wanted to do it. I still was enthusiastic. That was truly when I knew this was it. I did not spend many years on the line," she offered. "I went from the restaurants to catering quite quickly. Now that I am planning on opening my own restaurant though, it's a different mindset. It will be my name, my concept, so I really want to make sure that I know every aspect of the business; front of the house and back. I won't necessarily be the chef, but, they will be my recipes, my name on the door and I want to be able to jump on that line anytime they need me to. In any capacity. If my name is on it, there is no way I am not going to be involved in every aspect."
I then broached a subject that is a bit controversial and I gave Carla the option of discussing it or not. Recently, she had launched a Kick Starter campaign to help raise money for kitchen equipment for her upcoming restaurant opening and throughout the industry and public it was met with mixed reactions. Some approved while others thought it was not appropriate. As this is Up Close and Personal, I wanted to give Carla the chance to respond in a neutral atmosphere. She graciously
offered, "I definitely would not do it again. I was shocked at people's reactions. I was shocked that people assume that because you are on television it automatically means you are rich. I was shocked that folks also believe everything that they read. There are these websites, solely for entertainment purposes, that supposedly tell you what your favorite tv or film stars are worth and they had a ridiculous number claiming I was worth millions. For instance one of those site lists me as white," she laughed, "I mean to look at me, do I look white?" She continued, "It was a surprise to me, that with my new found celebrity, the public believes that they really know you. And frankly, they don't. I had to get used to that."
Carla's Comfort Foods and Cooking With Love, Comfort Food That Hugs You, she has a line of baked goods available on her website and stores in 8 states. Bite-size cookies that look like a snack, but pair boldly and beautifully with beer, wine and tea. Here you’ll find familiar flavors with a surprising twist, such as the Pecan Shortbread with Vanilla Salt and Goat Cheese with Dried Cranberries with a hint of rosemary. Carla's artisan cookies are made in small batches, packaged by hand and contain only the finest ingredients—European-style butter, unbleached sugar & flour, couverture chocolate, artisan cheeses, fresh nuts, premium spices. I asked about her expansion into the restaurant business. She explained, "We are currently looking for space and hopefully late spring early summer we'll be launching Carla's Southern Kitchen."
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this in-depth chat with Carla as much as I did in bringing it to you. I look for more fun, frolic and great culinary things from this lady and I know we'll all be watching and enjoying as she brings us along on her adventures.
To find out more about Carla, her products, cookbooks and where she might be appearing live near you, visit her website at www.carlahall.com and connect with her via social media here; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Till next time,