I recently caught up with Carla Hall, who is the co-host of ABC Daytime’s lifestyle series, “The Chew,” seated alongside restaurateurs and “Iron Chef America” stars Mario Batali and Michael Symon, entertaining expert Clinton Kelly, and health and wellness enthusiast Daphne Oz. She was the fan favorite former competitor on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” and built her brand winning over audiences with her fun catch phrase “Hootie Hoo” and philosophy to always cook with love. In the below interview, Carla shares her keys for success.
Jeff Gabel: From CPA to Runway Model to Chef, what inspired you to take the leap into professional cooking?
Carla Hall: Initially I didn’t know it was going to be food, I was looking for something I wanted to do. I didn’t know what that was. I started a lunch delivery service and realized I didn’t mind the long days, so I decided to go to culinary school and do it for real and become a professional chef.
Gabel: What advice do you have for amateur home cooks who are thinking about changing their career to pursue cooking professionally?
Hall: I think they shouldn’t jump the gun. Many folks fantasize what they see on television and don’t fully understand the harsh realities of cooking. Don’t change your career before you really understand what you are getting yourself into. It is a very hard business, I suggest working with a caterer during holidays or working in some shape or form in the business, and exposing yourself to the harshest gory side of it all before you decide.
Gabel: You’ve published a few cookbooks that talk about cooking with love, how do you stay motivated and make sure the pantry always stocked with that key ingredient?
Hall: I really try to always be present. If I’m not in a good mood I just don’t cook. Whenever you are in a bad mood something is bound to go wrong and you are not going to enjoy it anyway. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and then you just have to take a minute and check your attitude.
Gabel: You recently launched Carla’s Cookies, where did the idea come from?
Hall: It is an extension of my catering company, and they started off as a joke where clients would go through the buffet line and break a dessert in half and I would get upset – I felt like they were wasting my time. As a joke I made something so small that they couldn’t break it and the natural thing was cookies. We started doing them for dinner parties and customers started ordering them as Christmas gifts and then when I went on Top Chef All Stars (which I didn’t want to do because it was so hard on the business) I decided to do it so that I could change to the cookies and promote it and then it was so successful that I wound up transitioning full time to Carla’s cookies.
Gabel: How did the experience on Top Chef help you build your personal brand?
Hall: You get to know yourself pretty well when you are in a competition. I learned with the intention of coming from a spiritual place and being centered. What I thought was normal, actually wasn’t. It was like telling people to Cook with Love was a reminder, and afterwards that is how people remembered me. It wasn’t intentional, it was just my philosophy that I was voicing and that became my brand.
Gabel: How do you approach Quick Fire challenges in everyday life while juggling multiple ventures?
Hall: I approach it with the attitude that I know I can “get er done” and even if I can’t – I never know I can’t get it done until I can’t get it done – and that attitude sees me across the finish line almost every time.
Gabel: Who is your role model and how have they inspired you?
Hall: My role model was my grandmother and she is the one who told me that it was my job to be happy. The first one to say “follow your heart” and that is how I live my life.
Gabel: What has been the sweetest success of your career?
Hall: I have had so many sweet moments, and the Chew is obviously one of them because I get to work with incredible people every day. Also the guests that are on the Chew are always fantastic. One of the most special moments was when Gladys Knight was a guest (and I grew up with my mom playing that music for us all of the time), and when she came on the show she gave me a hug and was like “Carla!” and gave me a real tight hug, and I got to dance with her, and it was so wonderful.