Celebrity Chef Carla Hall Cooks up Success as a Media Maven

The Chew's top chef dishes on how she turned a passion for food into a business and brand

Now you’re on daytime television. How did that gig come about?

They must have interviewed every food person across the country. So I interviewed with a bunch of people and they didn’t call me back and I was like okay. And it wasn’t until after they shot the first pilot that they called me and I had just won fan favorite from Top Chef All-Stars and I think that had a lot to do with it. I think because [ABC was] making a big change from soap operas and they were looking for people that people wanted to watch. Apparently one of the execs said, How about Carla? They called me in and Michael Symon, Mario Batali, Clinton Kelly and a couple of other people in for a retest and six days later they were like here’s the cast of The Chew. It was crazy. I was like is this serious? And everyone from the producers to the cameramen to the executives are great, it’s a beautiful place to work.

What is your role on the The Chew?

I do comfort food. Even though I’m from the south (Nashville, TN) I don’t really want be known for Southern food. I like all kinds of food. A lot of the food we gravitate towards is comfort food. I just want to be known for food that hugs you, that inspires you to get back into the kitchen and take your power back. I consider it an honor to cook food for people and I take it very seriously. If I cook something for you, you’re saying you trust me to make something good. So what I want to do is inspire.

We went through a phase when women were too proud to cook but now we’re getting back into the kitchen and with shows like this and the Food Network and Bravo people are starting to experiment more. It’s about good food. And it’s a lot easier than you think, that’s the philosophy of everyone on this show: Good food, good ingredients.

What’s the learning curve for doing a daily show like this?

This is not easy and if it looks easy that means were doing a good job. The show is real. People always say, “Well, you’ve been on TV before,” and I tell them I have but it’s another thing. People gravitated towards me and it’s about being authentic, on Top Chef I’m doing whatever I’m doing and the camera is there. They are shooting me and editing it. You figure 40 hours go into a one-hour show, here you have four minutes to make an impact. You have to pull in the audience, talk to the other hosts and make something good. When I first got here I was so robotic with trying to get the dish down that I lost who I was. I just couldn’t do it. I was worried that you would see me only as this robot. If you see the earlier shows, oh my, God, it was so bad.

So how did you make the adjustment?

Daphne [Oz] and I are the only cast members who don’t have any show hosting experience so I talk to everybody. I talk to [Executive Producer] Gordon Elliot and I do my homework. I prepare, read all of the articles that we sometimes go through; I have a teleprompter app on my iPad and I go through my segment and read it to get better at that. I also get feedback from my friends who tell me when I stink—I don’t want those friends who tell me you’re great when you are not. Those aren’t friends, those are groupies.

“Cooking with love” is a phrase that you use a lot. What is that exactly?

I always say if you’re in a bad mood the only thing you should make are reservations because all that negative energy goes into it. If you think back to something your grandmother made and I don’t care if it’s really simple, it can be a grilled cheese sandwich but it’s perfectly grilled and the cheese is melted and it’s awesome. Let’s say your wife knows you like it but she doesn’t really feel like making it then it won’t be the same. It will be jacked, bread is burnt, it’s just not right and it’s because they don’t really want to do it. That’s why I take it seriously, because you can taste the love. When someone really wants to make something for you they take and put all their pride and heart into that thing.

You’ve created something here, complete with several streams of income. How do you manage your brand?

You start by asking yourself, well, who am I? I love kids, I love empowering people so the brand starts there. When I’m dancing on the show that’s my energy, that’s me. Even though I have a manager it’s a struggle to be here in New York and have a business in DC and to have appearances to do and I’m working on completing a cookbook [out on November 6th]. But I have a good team and so the brand is all about don’t forget what you stand for and to always be authentic. That’s what I come back to every morning.

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