How Top Chef Forced Carla Hall to Find Herself: “The Audience Will Absolutely Call Bulls---“

How Top Chef Forced Carla Hall to Find Herself: “The Audience Will Absolutely Call Bulls---“

Chef Carla Hall explains how her stint on Bravo's Top Chef shaped her career.

By Alesandra Dubin

Chef Carla Hall credits her stint on Bravo's Top Chef  as "fantastic for her career," saying, "I'm just very grateful for the opportunity." Indeed, Carla is on top right now after a rollercoaster year; she's just dropped her latest cookbook, Carla Hall Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration, a project very close to her heart... and to her roots. While talking to The Feast about the book, she explained that it was that earlier experience on Bravo's Top Chef that helped her get to where she is right now. 

"I actually found myself when I did Top Chef," Carla told The Feast. She explained that the pressure of the competition left her feeling "so stressed out" that it forced her to pivot toward "the food that made me feel good." And that meant comfort food — a style of cuisine that she'd originally resisted.

"That’s what I was running away from, what I didn’t want to do," she told The Feast. "But it turned out that that was how I actually found myself and my voice with my food. Knowing who you are — it’s so important."

She said that she'd initially felt her career would benefit if she rejected what was expected of her — as a means of being taken seriously in the food world. "As a black chef, everybody thinks that you’re going to do soul food," she explained. "You’re from the south — that’s what you’re going to do. And I just didn’t want to be pigeon holed. So I went to a French cooking school, [where] all of that was erased. I basically went to a school to erase my heritage and it wasn’t until I came back [that] I’m like — what am I doing? This is who I am. It’s like someone who’s Italian saying, 'I’m absolutely not gonna do Italian food.' Or a Chinese person saying, 'I'm not going to do Chinese food.' And it doesn’t mean that that’s all you do but I really feel that you ground yourself with the foods that you grew up on."

She said her initial instinct was both a response to her internalized concerns about feedback — as well as real-world pressures. "It was a combination of both... I love all of the judges, and they got me. But when you are a minority you think — are they gonna get my food?"

In the end, Carla eventually hit her stride by simply being herself and cooking the food she knows and loves — and the Bravo's Top Chef viewers ultimately respect that approach most of all, she said. 

"From the perspective of the audience — the audience sees bulls---," she told The Feast. "When somebody is trying to be the person that they want you to see [on TV], the audience will absolutely call bulls--- because they can see through phoniness. So the [best] thing that the person who is on television can do is to just be true to themselves."

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