Wed 25 Feb 2009
We’ve had the good fortune to get some quality time with Top Chef finalist Carla Hall. Before the show premiered, Mike got to chat with her when she was one in a mob of 17 chefs vying for the top spot. Several weeks later, Capital Spice was there to celebrate her triumphant win in the Super Bowl/All Stars episode alongside Carla and her husband, Good Stuff’s Chef Spike and a horde of fans during a viewing party at Good Stuff. (The same party where Carla surprised her husband Matthew with Super Bowl tickets – an event almost as sweet as the win).
Now we’re gearing up for the Top Chef finale and waiting with bated breath for Carla’s performance. The night before the finale aired, we were able to speak with her again about her feelings about the show, plans for the future, Tom Colicchio’s Diet Coke ad, and how YOU could hang out with her tomorrow night.
Check out her insights after the jump. Hootie Hoo!
Capital Spice: Hi! Thanks so much for your time today. You’ve got a huge wave of support going right now. Are you getting recognized in the street?
Carla Hall: Thank you. Yes, I am. Even with a hat and a big scarf on and just my nose showing people know its me under there.
CS: Do you get a lot of hootie hoos?
CH: Yes, a lot! I’ll never be able to find my husband again.
CS: Any big plans for watching the finale tomorrow night?
CH: I’m teaching a course at CulinAerie that night. We’ll have a viewing after the class and I think everyone in the world is coming.
CS: Oh wow, fun. I’m sure that class has been booked solid for weeks.
CH: I don’t know if it’s at capacity, it’s at the brink though. It’s a basics [cooking] class though and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
CS: You really hit your stride recently after some early struggles. How did everything click for you?
CH: The turning point was Restaurant Wars. I got over my fear of failing and got on to the business of cooking. I was very fortunate to stay on long enough to show what I can do. Lots of good chefs went home early. These challenges are tough, you go and they are just like “Go. Be Fabulous.” What you cook could be a hit or a total disaster. What I wanted was for everyone to cook their best so they were proud of what they did. It was all a learning experience.
CS: Is there a dish you are most proud of?
CH: All of the dishes I did in the last few challenges. Even at Le Bernardin I was nervous when I was plating but I loved that dish. I was proud of myself for pinpointing the garnishes. I felt it. At the judges table I felt good and I thought if I have to go home after this I’m okay.
CS: Is there a specific challenge you wish you could try again?
CH: Girl, of course. 12 days of Christmas. The quickfire with Martha, even though she liked it. I was too focused on taste, I didn’t think about presentation. Restaurant Wars. Scallops. I was always in front of the judges telling them what I would have done differently.
CS: Taking yourself back to the night before you filmed the finale, what was going through your head?
CH: I was just really hoping to be on game. Let me not peter out. I didn’t want nerves to get the best of me, and was like ”Let me just breathe.” I woke up early that morning sat in a chair and thought “just breathe.” Throughout the day I’d catch myself and go “you’re not breathing!”
CS: Oh wow. Do you practice yoga a lot?
CH: I do, yeah. It really helps me. So often we just don’t breathe because we’re hanging on to a lot of that tension.
CS: Did you prepare at all before traveling to New York for the first episodes?
CH: I’d go to some of my purveyors to play with fish. I was thinking of flavor groupings some and thought I’d do more but we were just so busy, it was time to go before I knew it. I wasn’t even prepared for the first challenge. I thought they’d let us ease into it. I wasn’t connecting the dots and realizing “hey, this is a competition.”
CS: Are you naturally competitive?
CH: I thought I was. I like to do my best. I run marathons. Running marathons was great for competing on Top Chef because you don’t focus on other people just yourself and improving yourself.
CS: What is your favorite ingredient to use when cooking?
CH: You mean besides love? Really good butter. I don’t think I can name the brand but I use a European butter and cheese. The one I’m using now has sea salt.
CS: What do you like to cook when you’re feeding loved ones at home?
CH: I like roast chicken. I love pasta. I’ll always see whats in the fridge or cupboards and make a pasta. I never cook at home though, my husband does.
CS: Wow, thats a nice set up.
CH: Yeah… he’s really great.
CS: So what do you think of Tom Colicchio’s Diet Coke ad?
CH: Nice work Tom! I was like ”ooh, there’s Tom!” It goes back to less is more. I love it. There is complexity in simplicity. I felt like that’s what he was trying to tell us all along.
CS: Would you do the show again?
CH: I would. It was a wonderful experience. Especially looking back now and processing it. When I first came back I was so drained emotionally and physically.
CS: What are you future plans?
CH: A new kitchen [for the catering business Alchemy Caterers] I want to move the business to downtown DC. I want a show kitchen with chef’s tables where people can come in and I can teach classes in my own space on a more personal level. I want to expand the business.
Good luck Carla! We’re rooting for you!