‘Top Chef’s Carla Hall: I Self Sabotaged

by | March 11, 2011 at 5:49 PM | Interviews

Carla on Top Chef (Bravo)

Carla on Top Chef (Bravo)

With her “hootie hoo” spirit depleted from two grueling challenges in the Bahamas, Carla Hall was sent packing on Wednesday night’s “Top Chef: All-Stars.” On Thursday, we caught up with the D.C.-based caterer to discuss her new business plan, who she wants to see win in next week’s finale, and what inspired her to go from modeling to cooking.

On watching her elimination at home with her husband Matthew: Interestingly enough, I knew what was going to happen, but contrary to what people believe, I didn’t tell him. So he didn’t really know. He was a little bummed. Of course I was dreading it because I made such bad decisions, but I owned them. I made two really bad dishes in one episode. The last time I did that was with the “spitballs” and Paula Deen.

On why she messed up: I think the pressure. I definitely self-sabotaged. Leading up to the season finale,  it’s really hard to leave the competition and go back into your world, and then go back into the finale. You have the opportunity to rest and get into the right mindset and just focus on food, which is what Mike did and it was phenomenal. And we do need to refresh because we’re so tired at the end of the season. But I think I just didn’t come back confident, and I knew it. I think I was afraid. I remember saying to Matthew, “If I break my arm, do you think I have to go back?” I knew I wasn’t mentally ready and I was exhausted. I overthought things. With the quickfire, for instance, I was thinking of doing one thing, and then all of the sudden I’m doing something else. And when I poured that rice into the pot I literally was looking at my hand pouring it, thinking, Who is doing that? I knew I was setting myself up. I turned to Hosea and I said, “I just gave you $10,000.”

See Carla’s Exit Interview:

On why we didn’t see as much of a “hootie hoo” Carla this season: I always say “hooty hoo,” they just didn’t play it. I say it every day with Matthew. We didn’t say it when we saw each other on the Ellis Island challenge because I wasn’t wondering where he was. It was like, Oh, hey Matthew. I’d had a bad day leading up to that challenge and just seeing him, I wanted to fall into his arms. It was really emotional. I think it was really hard, even now I feel teary because I’m thinking back at that moment, knowing that I had to make southern food because it was the food of my ancestors, and after not doing a good job on the previous challenge, that was hard too. I don’t think I would have been able to do it had he not been there.

On when she moved from modeling to cooking: I was modeling, and mind you, it wasn’t a dream of mine. I was doing that in the early 90s. That was a transition from accounting – go figure. It was in Paris that I was hanging out with a bunch of models every Sunday, and we’d have these big brunches where we’d all be hanging out in the kitchen and cooking. Well, they would be cooking – I’d be talking, because I didn’t really cook. And just listening to stories they told about their mothers and their fathers and cooking…. So I started buying cookbooks because I was fascinated. Up to this point, my father cooked really well, both my grandmothers cooked really well, my mother not really, but I wasn’t really interested in the process, I was just interested in the food. When I finally left modeling because my mother was sick, I had a baby shower for my sister and one of my friend’s couldn’t come. The next day I took leftovers to her and it happened to be in a picnic basket, so her employee said, “Oh, you have a business. What’s the name?” And I made up a name on the spot. She said, “When are you coming back?” And I said, “Tomorrow.” Then I came back and did the same thing the next day. Then after doing that for seven days I had seven clients, then after two weeks I had fourteen clients. Then I was a lunch lady for five years at a school.

On her “cooking with love” food philosophy: The whole thing about cooking with love is not so much this shtick that people think it is. It’s about finding your passion, whether that be in food, or music, or accounting, or whatever. If you find the passion then you will do well in that thing. That’s what I keep reminding people about. I was so happy when Mike made his dish for the Ellis Island challenge. Just to see his heart in his food. It’s an honor to see it happen for people.

Watch This Week’s Extended Judges’ Table:

On what she’s learned from “Top Chef”: It’s been an incredible learning experience. Once you have done the show and you step back into your real world, you realize you’re still in this incredible learning curve. Then the appearances and being recognized and what all of that means is just a totally different animal. So that’s huge. And actually, accepting the fact that when you make mistakes, you’re going to be making them in front of lots of people now, and the expectations of what that means. It’s been good. It’s been a journey.  I did not realize how popular the show was, I mean I watched the show, but I was working most of the time so I didn’t realize how popular it was. The second time around… And I have to say I didn’t immediately say, “Oh yes, let me go in again,” and it wasn’t because of the competition and how challenging it is, it was because of what happens afterward. And did I have something that I wanted to be part of a business plan? And that’s what I decided. If I’m going to do this I’m going to make it work for me. I spent a lot of time figuring out what that thing was going to be, and unfortunately I think that was my demise in going back into the finale, because I was trying to work this plan that I have in my head.

On how she’s shifting her business away from catering: When I  decided to do “All-Stars” I decided to not do catering [anymore] because  I was so tired of moving — packing it up four times. It was just hard  with appearances to have someone actually run that side of the business.  I decided to take one of the products, and focus on one thing. I took  the business that I wanted to have – a cafe – to the market, and we’re  doing classes and chef tables. I’m working at one thing at a time.

On the “Top Chef” effect: It’s like the Oprah Winfrey Effect. All of the sudden tons of people are calling you. And for my catering business it was really hard to actually handle that demand. I had a really nice business, it was growing steadily, I was finally making money, and now all of the sudden I’m getting all of these calls and I have to create all of the infrastructure for that business, which we weren’t planning to do. That means I’m paying for that with very little resources/ I’m paying for the staff, and with catering, you’re not getting that back immediately. Some of those [checks] won’t come for six months or a year later, so I’m paying for that. It was hard and you’re making decisions on the fly that you might not make if you took the time to think it through. You’re just being reactionary.

On who she’d like to see win: All of them I would want to win for different reasons. Knowing them as people and what they would get out of it, I have thought about them all winning. Everybody is talented. I became really close to Tiffany and Antonia, and seeing Mike come through and Richard has worked so hard and he’s stretched out so much — so really, all of them for different reasons.