This soul food chef has a heart for people. Get to know Carla Hall.

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Carla Hall
Melissa Holm
| Credit: Melissa Holm

Carla Hall once cried over a meatloaf Reuben. Biting into it the sandwich brought her back to another place and time. Meatloaf reminds the chef of her mother. You don’t need to know much about the former Top Chef judge and The Chew co-host to relate to this anecdote, of course. The ties between food, places, and people come up again and again on Homemade. But for Hall, whose cooking centers on soul food and comfort dishes, the personal element of food seems especially powerful. It’s what attracted the Nashville native to cooking from the start.

On this episode of Homemade, Hall spills her secrets to freezing greens, perfecting pot liquor, and cooking gumbo in just 20 minutes. Her conversation with host Martie Duncan covers everything from baking biscuits with strangers to accidentally starting a lunch delivery service. Download it for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts beginning July 15.

About Carla Hall

Carla Hall grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from the Howard University School of Business in Washington, D.C. After two years, Hall left her job as an accountant to work in Europe as a runway model. During this time, her travels and adventures in food inspired her to train as a chef.

In 2008, after gaining over a decade of experience in D.C. restaurants, Hall debuted on Top Chef. She returned to judge its eighth season and went on to star as a co-host on The Chew. She has since appeared on other cooking shows, including Crazy Delicious on Netflix. She is the author of Carla Hall's Soul Food, Carla's Comfort Foods, and Cooking with Love.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and check out her website.

Carla Hall

Episode Transcript

MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade from Allrecipes. I’m Martie Duncan. On this podcast we celebrate not just good food — which is so much a part of all of our lives — but also the people and the stories behind that food. And my guest today has lived the life.

Whether you followed her on her Top Chef journey or tune in to watch her every day on the Chew, former model-turned-chef Carla Hall has won our hearts with her quirky style, her Southern twang, and her fearless enthusiasm.

MARTIE Carla's motto, "Always cook with love," makes her our perfect guest. Welcome to Homemade, Carla Hall.

CARLA Martie! It's so good to hear your voice as your voice is like a warm blanket. I have to tell you.

MARTIE It is? Oh gosh.

CARLA It is.

MARTIE  Oh gosh. I don't know. Sometimes I hear myself and I'm like, "Oh girl, you have got to do something." But you know, the weirdest thing is, Carla, is if I talk to somebody with a different accent, I pick up that accent.

CARLA I do, too.

MARTIE Do you really?

CARLA I do.

MARTIE People say it's good. Like you're showing empathy by kind of — and I feel like I'm insulting them by saying, "Oh, really And then what did you do?"

CARLA Right, right, right.

MARTIE It's like, "Oh you do? Really?" I saw your interview with Jacques Pepin. And I catch myself. I would have been talking just like him. Like I would have said, "And then I put in the... Take a little bit that..." But oh, my God, he's so charming. And y'all were so cute together.

CARLA I love Jacques Pepin. He is amazing. I don't know if people realize this about me, but I love hands. I love watching people's hands. And when I'm cooking with Jacques Pepin and the way his hands, like that muscle memory in his hands, whatever he's cooking is fascinating to me.

MARTIE You know, especially somebody who has a trade like we do or like a carpenter or somebody who has the skill that their hands just sort of know what to do.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE That's pretty fascinating. You know, we have a lot in common besides our Southern accents and being Southern girls, I don't know if you realize this about us. You're born in Nashville, one of my favorite cities on the planet. Love, love, love me some Nashville. We both had a former profession before we became known for our cooking.

CARLA Mhm. What were you doing?

MARTIE I was a police officer.

CARLA Wait, did I know that?

MARTIE Probably not, but I was.

CARLA Oh my God.

MARTIE I know that's a long time ago. And I was in the wedding industry for many, many, many years. But you were a former model.

CARLA Mhm.

MARTIE That's fascinating. We're going to dig into that in a little bit.

MARTIE We were both on the competition cooking show. You on Top Chef, me on Food Network Star.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE And I think the most important thing of all, we both make a pretty badass biscuit.

CARLA  Oh, my God. That's the main thing. Isn't it?

MARTIE Yes. Before we talk about past lives and all these fascinating things, let's talk about biscuits. So, Carla, you're sort of the biscuit queen. I'm the biscuit boss. My maiden name is Bosshart. And my daddy and momma used to make biscuits at the church. When they retired, they moved out to the country and they go on Wednesday nights and make the biscuits for church supper. And when my mom passed away, one of the ladies came up to me and she said, "Now, Martie, I hope you'll make your daddy still come up here to the church on Wednesdays, cause we can't make our biscuits without our biscuit boss."

CARLA I love that.

MARTIE So, you're the biscuit queen. You're making biscuits all over the world.

CARLA I was making biscuits in New York — like biscuits with strangers — because I couldn't find a good biscuit in New York. So, I would go up to people and say, "Do you know how to make biscuits?" These are strangers — 99.9% of the time, they were like, “No.” I'm like, "Do you want to make some biscuits?" I would go to their house, and I would teach them how to make biscuits.

MARTIE I love this.

CARLA Right? And mainly because if you don't know how to cook a biscuit, at least you should know how to recognize a good biscuit. Because, people will send you to a place for a quote-unquote good biscuit, and as a Southerner, it is not a good biscuit.

MARTIE It's not even a biscuit sometimes.

CARLA Right. Sometimes it's a roll! I'm like no.

MARTIE That's not a biscuit.

CARLA Or a scone.

MARTIE Yes.

CARLA It was really fun. And then it became a thing of instead of breaking bread with people, it was about making bread with people. Because just the camaraderie and the community of actually cooking with people like we used to do back in the day.

MARTIE  I mean, that just melts my heart. You're singing all the right notes right there. I think the world needs more of that.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE Doesn't it? Especially now in this crazy time of pandemic. But, OK, so let's dive into the biscuit recipe. I know you got a granny that was an amazing cook. Freddie Mae, right?

CARLA Yes. Freddie Mae Glover, mhm.

MARTIE OK. So is this Freddie Mae's recipe or somebody else's? Or yours or a combination?

CARLA  It's a combination. It was taken from Freddie Mae, Granny, and then when I was in London, I grabbed a scone recipe and tweaked it — because it was heavier without buttermilk. And then I've just been tweaking it over the years. It's more my Granny's than anything else, and I've changed the method. So that the recipe itself is fine. I changed the method to make it more consistent.

MARTIE I had to change my mama's just a little bit, too. The thing I change about my mother's biscuit recipe is that my mother didn't laminate it, you know, or fold it over and over and over. She basically got it all pulled together, folded over once, and then roll that sucker out and cut it out and throw it in the pan. And, you know, she had four kids. She didn't have time to fool with it. But I figured out that, although most people say you don't touch a biscuit dough very much, I found out that if you kind of laminated almost like puff pastry or croissants, you get the flaky layers.

CARLA You do.

MARTIE Yeah.

CARLA That's what I started doing.

MARTIE Me too.

CARLA I laminate my dough. And that's because when the butter is cold, it has water in it. So when you do those layers — so now you have, depending on how many turns, you may have nine layers. I do three turns and then that cold butter creates steam. And then that creates the layers and the tall biscuit. It is delicious. The other thing that I do for consistency is I grate my butter.

MARTIE I do, too.

CARLA  Right? Oh, my God. Martie...

MARTIE We are soul mates!

CARLA Why aren't we making biscuits right now?

MARTIE  I know. Oh, girl. Let's do a big biscuit party. Come on.

CARLA Oh, my God. Are you kidding me?

MARTIE Let's find a place and do one.

CARLA I mean, we even have — What time is it? It's biscuit time! What time is it? It's biscuit time!

MARTIE  It's biscuit time. What time is it? It's biscuit time.

CARLA It's biscuit time. That's what's up?

MARTIE I'm ready. I'm so ready.  

CARLA So, morning biscuits, I like them plain. I like buttermilk, and if I don't have buttermilk, I do half sour cream, half milk. And that gives me that texture and that little bit of sourness, that tang.

But I also like putting things in. So herbs, lemon zest. If I'm going to use the biscuit as a topping, sort of dumplings with chicken, I will do lemon zest and herbs and plop them on top of the broth.

MARTIE Ooh nice.

CARLA If I'm going to do some kind of savory sandwich — if I just want the biscuit to stand alone and that I'm having with the salad — I might throw in like some fennel and black pepper and something like that.

MARTIE Oh, that sounds yummy.

CARLA And then I do what I call my angel biscuits, which is a yeasty biscuit. I cut out the center and put egg salad. So it's almost like a sandwich with the egg salad.

MARTIE Sometimes — this is a top secret. I don't know why I'm sharing this. Sometimes...

CARLA Please share.

MARTIE Just me and you, not the 60 million Allrecipes people, just the two of us. I had a friend whose mama made what she called bottle cap biscuits. And she would take a bottle cap, like a Coca-Cola cap, and then she'd cut out the middle of the biscuit, and then she'd put maybe maple syrup, or she'd put in jam or jelly. And then she'd bake the thing.

So sometimes I do that and that is so good. And then I thought, well, why couldn't I make that hole a little bit bigger and just put an egg in there and cook it? So sometimes I do that, too.

CARLA What? Yes!

MARTIE Like a toad in the hole?

CARLA OK. I'm getting chills right now. OK.

MARTIE All right. So sometimes I make the bottle cap biscuits and I shove in like cream cheese or like an orange cream.

CARLA I see it.

MARTIE That little hole in the top?

CARLA Yes. But what's the glaze on that biscuit?

MARTIE Oh, like a sugary, orangey glaze. Like I put orange juice and confectioners sugar and then dunk it in there.

CARLA Let me find out that's a creamsicle biscuit.

MARTIE It is. That is exactly what it is. It's a creamsicle biscuit. And then, of course, you know, I also use my biscuit dough to make cinnamon rolls.

CARLA Yes. Yes.

MARTIE And they are the best cinnamon rolls because you don't have that hard outside. Because when I get a cinnamon roll, I gotta get past the hard outside to get to the really nice stuff in the middle.

CARLA Yes, that gooey — yes, the last part that you eat.

MARTIE I don't like the outer ring, but with the biscuit cinnamon roll, you get all soft, yummy deliciousness.

CARLA OK, let's talk about rolls for a second.

MARTIE Let's do.

CARLA Yeast rolls. You mentioned that I was modeling, and speaking of cinnamon rolls, one of my favorite French pastries is the pan au raisin.

MARTIE Me too.

CARLA Right?

CARLA That like cinnamon roll with custard inside and raisins. The one thing that I tried to make was using my yeast dough with plumped up raisins and a custard and rolling it. And then cutting it so that without the hard edge, you have that softness of that roll with the custard and the raisins, baby!

MARTIE You had me at custard. I just gotta say, you had me at custard. Oh gosh.

We'll have more with Chef Carla Hall right after the break.

Welcome back to Homemade. I'm talking with Chef Carla Hall.

MARTIE Listen, I have so many questions I want to ask you. And a lot of these, like — we think we know you. We saw you for, what, 1,500 episodes on The Chew every day? We miss you, Carla Hall.

That was the dream job. I don't know that modeling job all around Europe seemed like the dream job of all time. Paris, Milan, London. That seemed like the dream. And then you're on The Chew!

CARLA I know.

MARTIE I mean God has shone his light on you.

CARLA I accept, and it's amazing. Sometimes from the outside, things look more glamorous than they are.

MARTIE True that.

CARLA So, as a model, you know, when you are running around trying to find work and not eating because they're like — I mean, I always ate — but you have to maintain your figure. And you go to a go-see and there are all of these girls who look amazing. So but it was fun. It was a part of my self-discovery and discovering food.

MARTIE And part of your food career, yes. So tell us a little bit about that. You're wandering around all these amazing food cities, and suddenly you decide, "Hm, maybe I want to explore cooking."

CARLA There was some overlap. There was a woman named Elaine Evans who was from Tennessee, and she was living in France. And she was living in Paris. And she would get the models together every Sunday to have a Sunday brunch.

MARTIE How lovely.

CARLA It was so nice because it was grounding because here we are, most of us Americans, and not with our families. And she would pull us together. And there was just something so amazing and grounded so it felt like home and my grandmother, going to her Sunday suppers. And all of the socialization that took place in the kitchen.

And I'm watching people cook and I'm like, oh, this is what happens in the kitchen. You know, I'm usually outside. I'll come in when the dinner bell rings. And so everyone was cooking and they were like, "Well, my mother does it like this." "Well, my mother does it like that." And I'm like, "I have no idea."

I had no idea what was happening in the kitchen. And I started buying cookbooks. And that was really the beginning of my interest in food. And then when I came back to the States after the modeling was over, I started a lunch delivery service as a fluke after a friend couldn't come to my sister's baby shower, where I was making the food.

MARTIE I've read that, that you brought sandwiches?

CARLA I did smoked turkey. I did quiche at the time. I did biscuits with smoked turkey as well.

MARTIE Nice.

CARLA I remember doing chess pie. Because I was trying to recreate everything that my friend couldn't have at the baby shower. And I just put it into a basket. And when I got there, she said, "My friend has a business." I was like, what? And they were like, "What's the name of it?" And I was holding a picnic basket because that's what I put all the food in. I looked down at the basket. I looked up at them, and I said, "The lunch basket."

MARTIE Oh, how funny.

CARLA And they were like, "When are you coming back?" I'm like, "Tomorrow."

MARTIE Tomorrow. Yeah. And get your checkbook ready. That is awesome. That is so awesome. All right. Your greatest influence in the kitchen outside of Freddie Mae. I'm guessing that's your biggest influence, but your biggest influence in the kitchen...

CARLA I think Shirley Corriher. BakeWise, CookWise. I love her books because what not only is Shirley from the South but she's a food scientist. So, the science of things and why things work and even though I love and I seem loosey-goosey, I love order. I love process. I mean, I love that.

MARTIE That's interesting.

CARLA And it doesn't necessarily come across, but when you know that I was an accountant, you know that there's a part of me that loves puzzles and the way things fit and why they fit. I don't really talk about it a lot. But I think that way.

And I got to meet her for the first time last year. And I had been using her books for years. And when I was catering, I used her CookWise, and not necessarily the recipes, but the why. And I incorporated that into my recipes. And I remember sending her a note saying, "Thank you for getting me through a really busy catering season." And a couple of months later, she sent a note back, and I was like, "Oh, my God, Shirley Corriher."

So I met her for the first time. I love her. I'll have to find the pictures. I absolutely love her and adore her. And so I would say, it's her.

MARTIE Who would you most like to cook for?

CARLA Ohh, um...

MARTIE Because I know you cook for a lot of people already.

CARLA I have, I have. Including the Obamas. But you know who I would like to cook with? And this sounds very cliche, but because her dad lives in Nashville and because she has Nashville roots, Oprah Winfrey because she gets my food.

MARTIE That's mine, too. That's my top of my list. This doesn't sound cliche at all. You know why for me? Because she has had every great Southern cook in the world cook for her and I want to see how my food stacks up to all theirs, like Art Smith and everybody else.

CARLA Yes!

MARTIE Let's go together! I'll go with you. I'll be your sous.

CARLA Let's go together. One of my comfort meals is collard greens or mixed greens and cornbread and maybe some beans. And that's the thing that I make when I'm homesick in New York because I just want to feel a piece of home.

And I saw a video of Oprah making her cornbread and collards. And I was like, "Girl, why have we not cooked together?" I would just love that. I would absolutely love that.

MARTIE Me too. I did the Oprah show a lot of times back in the '90s because I was based in Chicago and they would do a lot of wedding episodes. So I did a lot before I even thought about cooking for a job. And so I've always wanted to cook for Oprah because I thought, girl, I could show you a few tricks.

CARLA The other person that I would love to cook with is Patti LaBelle because she can throw down.

MARTIE Yes, she can.

CARLA Come on.

MARTIE Miss Patti.

CARLA Miss Patti.

MARTIE I know. I love that Ms. Patti. Oh, my gosh. Well, so when you're cooking up a big pot of turnip greens or collard greens or mixed greens, walk us through that process. What's that look like?

CARLA OK, the first thing that I do is think about the pot liquor. Back in the day, when my grandmother was cooking, she would throw everything in there and then let the greens cook down. But I want to focus on the pot liquor first. And my greens are actually vegetarian. So, lots of onions. I slice or dice the onions. Sometimes I slice them and they just melt away. Onions, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, and of course a lot of oil because I'm not using meat. And fat is the flavor carrier.

MARTIE Right.

CARLA So then, I use smoked paprika.

MARTIE That's a good tip.

CARLA Yeah. And then I use water. So I have probably about 2 to 3 cups of pot liquor liquid. And when that is delicious and tasty, then I add in my greens.

MARTIE That's so backwards, the way that the old-school cooks do it. But that's so smart because you're right, the pot liquor — for those of you who don't know what that is — that is the liquid in the pot you cook the greens in or used to be what was the residual effect of cooking.

CARLA Exactly, right.

MARTIE  But you're doing it reverse. You're getting your pot licker where you want it, taste-wise, flavor-wise. Then you add your greens and cook them.

CARLA Yup.

MARTIE And you — I'm assuming you don't cook them to death like our old mamas and grandmamas did.

CARLA I don't. And let me tell you why I don't have to. Because I also chiffonade my greens. And I don't wash them first. I stack them up like about six or seven greens. I roll them. I then cut them lengthwise on the roll. And then I slice them really thin.

And then taking at least one or two inches of the stems even thinner, because that's going to be the texture for my greens. And then I put that into the water. And so I clean them. You don't even have to spin them dry. I let all the dirt settle. And then I take those greens — shake, shake, shake — and put them into the pot liquor. And then as that pot liquor is cooking, I just take my batches and put them right into the pot liquor, and I just keep going like that.

MARTIE Ooh, that's so interesting.

CARLA It's about a bunch per person because greens really cook down.

MARTIE They do. They surely do. And when people see me through the grocery store with a whole cart full of greens, they're like, "You must be cooking for an army." I'm like, "These won't make much."

CARLA If they're good. Right? You want to have them. So we're sheltering in place and my mom was talking to me. I had an event in Nashville for the National Food and Wine. And I had greens and hot water cornbread, and I had a whole bunch. I mean, I just don't want to run out of greens. And so I was giving people like quarts of greens. And so my mom took a couple of quarts home. And just the other day she said, "Carla? I've eaten these greens from when you were at the show." And I was like, "Oh, that's so amazing." And they freeze so well.

MARTIE They do?

CARLA They do.

MARTIE Wow.

CARLA They do. They freeze really well.

MARTIE That's good to know. So, after you cook them, freeze them in liquid?

CARLA Uhuh. Yup.

MARTIE Oh nice. So we talked about your granny, Freddie Mae. Was your mama a good cook too?

CARLA No. That’s a quick conversation.

MARTIE Yeah. I figured not because you said you didn't have like much of a clue about some of the stuff going on in the kitchen. I figured it was your granny that was the cook, and your mama just...

CARLA  I mean, my mother went to boarding school. So from fourth grade to eleventh grade, she was in boarding school in Camden, Alabama. And even though I say that my mom doesn't cook — but my mother makes certain things. You know — like back in the day — I grew up in the 60s, so there were five things that she made. A pot roast. A meatloaf. She would make a lot of Hamburger Helper.

MARTIE I love Hamburger Helper. Just don’t dis the Hamburger Helper. I love Hamburger Helper.

CARLA OK, I have a recipe in my book called Hamburger Help Me! I said, My Mama's Hamburger Help Me! But I love meatloaf because of my mom.

MARTIE Me too.

CARLA I absolutely love meatloaf. I had it at this restaurant called the Marshall in New York City. And I had ordered this meatloaf Reuben. And I sat there. And it was such a visceral memory for me that I started crying as I was eating the sandwich.

MARTIE I knew you were gonna say that. Isn't it funny how food can just transform? It's like music.

CARLA Mhm.

MARTIE When you hear a song, it takes you back to a place and time.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE And I think food does the same thing with the smells and the tastes. They transport you back to wherever that memory is embedded. Isn't that amazing.

CARLA Yeah. Yeah. It's such a gift.

MARTIE It really is. For Christmas, I went over to my cousin's house. I lost my mother 16 years ago. And this was my first Christmas without my daddy. And so it's a tough one, but my cousin invited me over and we had brunch. And she said, "Listen, I want to give you something." And she had found my mother's meatloaf recipe in my mama's handwriting and on stationery with our old address where I grew up. And she goes, "I want you to have that."

CARLA What I'm hoping that you're gonna do with that, Martie, is send it somewhere and blow it up and put it on a canvas.

MARTIE  I am. I'm going to put it...

CARLA Or! You can put it on a tea towel. You could actually put it on different things.

MARTIE I've seen people do that. I was gonna frame it, mat it, and I've got a place in my — I'm redoing my mama's kitchen. Yeah, I'm going to definitely do that.

When I was a kid, though, I did not eat the meatloaf. My mother would make me a hamburger patty and put it on the side. I would not eat the meatloaf. I don't know why. But when I got a little older, of course I did, when I was a teenager. But when I was a young kid at our first home, I never ate the meatloaf. Now, that was dumb.

CARLA  I was thinking about this the other day, and I was thinking about meatloaf, but I was doing some Vietnamese-inspired lettuce wraps. And I said that, I mean, sometimes it takes so long to make a meatloaf. I mean, it's at least an hour. So I think what I'm going to do the next time that I want to do a meatloaf is take all of my flavor — all of the vegetables and everything that I put inside it — and I'm going to cook it in a pan like minced meat and do lettuce wraps with my meatloaf.

MARTIE What a great idea. I think that is a great idea. And that way you can use it for catering and stuff. too. And parties.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE Because it's hard to make a meatloaf for a party. You know. It's a plated thing. That makes it like a portable little transportable bite. How exciting.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE What a good idea. Now, your mom's meatloaf. Was it like a traditional meatloaf or?

CARLA It was.

MARTIE Kind of those same flavors in yours or?

CARLA Yes, definitely. So the Worcestershire sauce and the onions and everything. The only thing that I do differently is I do, like, the mirepoix. So take the onions, the celery, the carrots, and I blend it up. I use oatmeal just like she did.

MARTIE  Your mommy used oatmeal?

CARLA  Yeah. Yeah. She used oatmeal.

MARTIE My mommy used white bread, of course. And kind of toasted it and made bread crumbs out of that. And sometimes she didn't — she'd just tear up the white bread and throw it in there. I'd never heard of it with oatmeal. Tell me...

CARLA I grind the oatmeal, I put the milk that I'm going to put in. I let the oatmeal sit in the milk with all the spices. So the cayenne pepper and the salt and black pepper, cumin, all of that — she didn't put cumin in hers. And then that goes into my mix and I mix my egg in that.

MARTIE Right.

CARLA So I had this egg-milk oatmeal mixture with the spices. And then I have my vegetables and all that goes into the meat mixture.

MARTIE  Do you put yours in a pan. Are you free form it on a sheet pan? Or how do you do yours?

CARLA Freeform.

MARTIE Yeah, I think most people are doing that nowadays. My mother had a meatloaf pan, so I tend to use that. I still have it.

CARLA I love it.

MARTIE I use that meatloaf pan. I don't even know how to make it without it, I don't think. You know, it's weird. I'm sure you have your prized kitchen possessions, too. I've got my mommas' skillet and her rolling pin. I don't know how to cook them if I don't have those things.

CARLA Speaking of prized possessions, I had my grandmother's cast iron skillet.

MARTIE How wonderful.

CARLA I remember this like it was yesterday. I was in New York. I was making a dish that Michael Simon had done on The Chew and it was this warm mushroom vinaigrette. So I had sauteed the mushrooms, and I was putting the olive oil and vinegar in the pan. And I was like, where's the liquid going? And the pan cracked.

MARTIE Cracked. Oh, I've heard of that recently. Only in, like, the last month have I even heard of that ever happening. I wonder why.

CARLA I think it's because the pan was so hot for the mushrooms and then I put in the vinegar and not the oil first, right? And I was starving. When I started doing this I was starving. And I sat there, and I looked at the pan. And when I realized what was happening, I was like, no!

And the tears just flowed. Because it was almost like I was just losing this thing of my grandmother's, and I can't cook in it anymore. I still have it. But it was so emotional because so when you talk about your mother's meatloaf pan and the rolling pin it and the connection that we have and what is almost like this talisman of making that dish. Right?

MARTIE True.

CARLA And when you don't have it, you're like, oh, my God, can I...

MARTIE Can I still cook? It's like my magic.

CARLA Right, right. Exactly.

MARTIE Speaking of that. I think you have superpowers. So what is your primary, your best superpower?

CARLA I really think that my superpower is that I genuinely like people. I really like people. I don't pretend to like people. I don't talk to people because I have to because I'm on television. I genuinely like people. And I love talking to strangers.

MARTIE I do too. It's weird. I like talking to anybody, really. So tell me, what is your favorite recipe to make or your number one recipe? Like, if you're going to entertain at home, what's your favorite thing to make?

CARLA Most people ask me about the hot chicken from my restaurant. So even though I don't have a restaurant and I only had it for a year and it went away in 2017. They still talk about that. They still talk about my petite cookies that were like little bites.

MARTIE That's one thing I remember about you were those little tiny cookies. I'll tell you another thing. The gumbo. Like, Emeril thought your gumbo was amazing.

CARLA Yes.

MARTIE Let's talk a little bit about gumbo, because — I mean, that's my heart right there. You did gumbo. I think that's, I mean, an amazing risk to do gumbo in a competition cooking show, because you've gotta cook that roux. How in the world did you accomplish that?

CARLA Yeah, that was crazy. That was one of those things you could think too hard about it. So we were in New Orleans. We had 20 minutes to cook. And again, who can cook a gumbo in 20 minutes?

MARTIE I’d still be thinking about what to get out of the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

CARLA  So I think for me, it was all about building flavors. And I love making soup. So I had shrimp. I had the shrimp shells. I threw a pot on the back burner to make a broth. I had my roux going in another pan. I was having my vegetables in another pan. I had three pans going at once so the timing would have been right.

The vegetables — I did the holy trinity, the peppers, the onions, and the celery. And then I had thyme in there, bay leaves. And then I had some tomatoes, and I just threw everything back in. But really, it was getting the most flavor out of those shrimp heads and shells.

MARTIE  I used to make shrimp and grits for my dad a lot. It's his favorite. And sometimes he would stop by the store and he would say, "I'm gonna get some shrimp." And then he’d come home with this cheap, horrible shrimp. I'm like, "Daddy, don't go to the superstore and get shrimp. You got to get the real stuff. It doesn't taste the same." He didn't believe me. And so I'm like, "OK. I'm gonna make shrimp and grits with your ugly ole shrimp. And then I'm gonna go get some shrimp."

And then I went and got Gulf shrimp and made him the same thing. And I'm like, OK, let's taste the difference. And went, "Oh, wow, these are watery. They don't taste like anything. And these are — you're right, full of flavor." But I think that's a great tip for our listeners. Y'all, use the heads and the shells to make your stock. And you can freeze that. Right, Carla?

CARLA Yes. You actually can absolutely freeze that. I think right now, what I love about what people are doing, they're cooking more. And they're trusting themselves more. And they're like, "Oh, I'm a better cook than I thought." But you're a better cook because you've practiced. It just takes practice.

MARTIE Yeah, we don't cook like we cook, like, immediately. I've had a lot of mistakes that I've had to go back and revisit and revisit and revisit and finally kind of get it where I want it. And I don't know why people gave themselves such a hard time when they don't get it right at the first get-go.

I want to talk a little bit about your other TV stuff that you're doing right now. I mean, I've seen you judging a lot of stuff, mostly the baking stuff, I've noticed. But you've got something new, Crazy Delicious on Netflix?

CARLA It's Crazy Delicious because they took the idea, we see all of this food on Instagram and all these beautiful pictures. But is it delicious? It looks crazy and amazing, but is it delicious? And so the most perfect dish not only looks good, but it tastes good. Because you can't taste the picture.

MARTIE That's right.

CARLA So we push the boundaries for these contestants. But the most fabulous thing about the show is that they created a garden. It was almost like an Alice in Wonderland, like a Willy Wonka thing, where you walk in, there is dirt. There are trees. There is a tree with a spigot where you get your maple syrup. There's an olive tree where you get olive oil.

MARTIE How fascinating.

CARLA It's pretty amazing. And so they set up this entire world. And when you walk in, you can smell the dirt. And I think what I love about the show, and it's a byproduct of the show just talking about food and cooking, is that a lot of kids don't know what plants their food comes from.

So when you actually see somebody going through and they, say, look at the squashes on the ground. Because it's a gourd and it's growing up from the ground like a watermelon. You go to the ground. When you're going to a pepper bush and you have your pepper or a lemon tree. So it's all of those things. And you’re looking at maple syrup, and you're like, "Oh, it's coming out of this tree. That's the sap." So, I think it's also educational from that perspective.

MARTIE  So, your favorite thing to bake, what would it be?

CARLA I love pies.

MARTIE Me too.

CARLA I love crust.

MARTIE Me too.

CARLA I love pies.

MARTIE Me too. Which one would you make?

CARLA Peach cobbler. Really quickly, the secret to making my peach cobbler.

MARTIE OK.

CARLA I take my peaches. I macerate them in the sugar and a little bit of lemon juice, brown sugar, little bit of almond, and just let them sit. Then I put them on a sheet pan and let them cook in the oven for passive cooking. Because, you know, for your soul food peach cobbler, those peaches need to be cooked and, like, dark. Right? But with still texture.

Then I'd bake my bottom crust on a sheet pan and I put that baked crust on the bottom and the peaches on top. And then a raw dough up top so that when I eat peach cobbler, that cooked crust is more like a dumpling, but it's not raw dough. So that's the secret that I do.

MARTIE Yum. I'm gonna try that, too. That's very different than anything I've ever done. Listen, before we let you go, Carla. You do a lot of charity work, and I want to give you a chance to talk about that just a little bit before we go.

CARLA When I decide to do something for a group, it's usually about kids. It's about Africa. It is about women. So the Pajama Program, which does books and pajamas for kids. But not only that, it gives them a safe haven to feel that safety and the creativity of a good night's sleep.

Helen Keller International. They do a lot of work with women — not only eyeglasses, but also of micronutrients and all of the diseases that are related to those micronutrients. A lot of work in Africa and Asia.

And then the third one is GENYOUth. And I was on Amazon Live with Baker Mayfield from the Browns talking about GENYOUth. And what they're doing right now is really helping these 53 million kids get their school lunches because 30 million kids still depend on these meals from school.

MARTIE It's true.

CARLA Even though they're not in school. So, that is still happening. And with all of the food insecurity that's happening right now, the kids aren't being talked about.

MARTIE It's fairly shocking that in this country we have so much food insecurity. People don't really realize it, but there are so many children and families who depend on the school lunch programs. And with the school year being abbreviated like it was, many are not sure where they'll get their next meal.

CARLA That's right.

MARTIE That's an important program. Thank you for all you do. And I think it just speaks to your heart, to the kind of person that you are, that you spend so much of your time and energy and effort trying to help other people. So thank you for that from all of us.

CARLA Well, thank you for asking. And I think I can say the same thing for you, because when you do have a platform, it's like, how are you going to reach back and help someone else?

MARTIE I think that's what we're all supposed to do. Put a hand out, help the next one up. I think that's what we're supposed to do.

Carla, thank you so much for being on our Homemade podcast. You have made it so much fun, and we can't wait to try some of your tips and secrets. And I'm going to do those collard greens, girl.

CARLA Well, we have to cook together. This has been so great. And thank you for having me on. I feel like, you know, when you haven't spoken to a friend in a long time and when you speak to them, you're like, "Oh, my gosh, this is exactly what I needed." So that's how I feel about talking to you today. So thank you.

MARTIE Bye, girl.

CARLA Bye.

MARTIE Be sure you check out Carla Hall’s new show on Netflix. It’s called Crazy Delicious. You can also find her on YouTube, on Instagram @CarlaPHall, and on CarlaHall.com.

Up next on Homemade, food and culture with my favorite Mexi-can, Chef Aaron Sanchez.

AARON SANCHEZ They have these wonderful, cool culture of males supper clubs, where all the men get together and they all cook together and drink cider. And cook octopus on the grill. And they have all these beautiful old traditions up there in the northwest of Spain, which is really cool.

MARTIE  Aaron’s latest book is Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef. And we’ll be talking about his childhood, cooking, and all of those tattoos.

Don’t miss it… subscribe to the podcast right now. And please, if you could rate this podcast and leave us a review, I’d really appreciate it.

And don’t forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to’s from the world’s largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Executive Editor Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Tanya Ott, and Maya Kroth.

Thanks for listening. I’m Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.