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After Bravo's Top Chef, Carla Hall was able to see clearly that the opportunity was "fantastic for her career," telling The Feast in an interview, "I'm just very grateful for the opportunity." But it wasn't always clear that it would turn out that way.
Carla explained her doubts going into the Top Chef experience to fellow alum Richard Blais and his wife Jazmin on their podcast Starving for Attention.
"It's still in my orbit because Top Chef replays over and over. You know? I get a bump and people say, 'Oh, I’m watching you on Top Chef Season 5 and then Season 8 for All Stars,'" Carla said. "And, I recently started doing this storytelling with the Story District in Washington, D.C., and so we’re telling these stories. One of the stories that I tell was when I was on Top Chef. So I live this [even at present]. The actual story that I tell was during Top Chef All-Stars episode 4. It was the U.S. Open challenge where we had to do a dish that was fit for an athlete. Can I just share my experience of that?"
Of course, she had Richard and Jazmin rapt.
She continued: "First of all, my PR agency said, 'You really shouldn’t do Top Chef because you don’t know what’s going to happen — plus you’re trying to really break away into your own brand.'"
But she ultimately overruled that idea. "I decided to do it," she recalled. "And then you don’t want to be the first one kicked off. You’re like, “Was the first season, for me Season 5, a fluke?' Making it to the final. So you’re like, 'OK, stop while you’re ahead.' And so here I am, and we’re doing this thing and the imposter syndrome sets in."
And that's a feeling even host Padma Lakshmi knows all too well with respect to her role on Top Chef.
"Then you feel like, 'I’m the old one, and I’m a caterer, and I’m not in that restaurant world of everyone else.' You’re underestimated. So you’re like, 'OK, everyone’s underestimating me, do they know more about me than I know about myself?'"
Carla recalled a specific interaction with podcast host Richard that left an indelible impact: "I remember, and I’ve talked to you about this, Richard. I would win and Richard would say, 'Oh, wait, what game are you playing? Are you like this sleeper? What’s happening?' The analyzing."
But she put her personal touch on it — undaunted. "In this particular challenge, I remember saying I wanted to do this ground nut stew. And they’re like 'What?! For the U.S. Open? It’s vegetarian. I mean really do you even know what the U.S. Open is? It’s supposed to be fancy,'" she recalled. "Here I am and I’m going to do it because I think it would be great for an athlete, and I’m focused on that. ‘Cause I’m focused on the people it’s for. So then I’m prepping and I cut my finger, and then I have so much to prove. I’m like, 'I know I’ve gotta finish, how can I get back in the game?'"
In the end, she pulled out a win — but it still felt complicated.
"The reason I’m bringing that story up is because a lot of times people don’t understand what’s happening with us as chefs internally," she explained. "You’re going through this and they just see that dish. They just see the challenge. They just see Top Chef. And it’s your life. It is your validation. It’s so many things that are happening behind the scenes. That’s why I tell these stories. There are young kids who will be going through this, and if we don’t share our stories they don’t understand how to matriculate through this business."
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