Whether you’ve seen her on two seasons of Top Chef or most recently on the hit ABC all-things-food show, The Chew, it’s hard not to love Carla Hall. She’s one of the most vivacious and funny women on TV and perhaps the friendliest celebrity around. OK, equal with her Top Chef teammate Tiffany Derry, whose Private | Social restaurant in Dallas is where we caught up with the overnight sensation on her fame, food and her huge support for the gays.
Gay List Daily: When you were on Top Chef did you think you’d ever be such good friends with other contestants?
Carla Hall: It’s like a little fraternity. It’s overlooked. The thing we walk away with are the friendships, so everybody wins. It’s like when you go away to the Peace Corps and there are all these people who get married because it’s a life experience. I wish they would have a Top Chef camp for people who would like to understand what the experience is like. I don’t know how they could do it because of the liability of having knives and fire and stuff, but it would extend the brand to the lay person. The Monday morning quarterbacks would suddenly be in the same boat. Some of the Top Chef people would be there to judge. You hear that producers? I think that would be awesome.
GLD: Sign us up! So, a co-starring spot on a daytime talk show is pretty huge. Was that in your grand scheme?
CH: I had no idea. I didn’t even go on Top Chef with a plan. A lot of people went on to further their career. I went on as a personal challenge. And I didn’t even realize how popular the show was because I was always working.
GLD: Has cooking always been your career?
CH: No. Started in accounting. Didn’t like that, oh my god. Then I modeled for a little bit. Then I found the thing that I love, and it ended up being food. But I also love theater. Maybe I’ll get a small part on Broadway now that I’m in New York. I did get a chance to be Mary Poppins and fly for a segment [on The Chew] once. That was fun.
GLD: Any fun stories from the set?
CH: We have lots of stories. It’s this seemingly motley crew and it works. We’re all different enough and it makes sense. The fun generally starts in the dressing room when somebody shares some personal thing and Michael [Symon] says it on the air in front of millions of people.
GLD: Clinton Kelly was one of our favorite interviews ever. Does he just kill you on a daily basis?
CH: When we did the casting, I thought it was an ambush. I thought he was coming to bust me out about my clothes. And then I found out he was coming for the job.
GLD: Does he critique you?
CH: One time a couple weeks ago, he looks down and he’s like, “Hmmmm. Are those pants too big?’’ My crotch was hanging low, but it just takes one look from him and you know. What’s wrong, what’s wrong? Once you ask, he’ll tell you. It’s really nice because he doesn’t want you to look bad on TV. When he compliments you, it’s really nice. And he goes just to the line of inappropriate, which I love. It takes a very secure person to do that.
GLD: Food guilty pleasure?
CH: There’s absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t eat. I don’t feel guilty about anything. I eat everything. I would do a three-scoop sundae with the most fattening ice cream. But no cherry. I want salted caramel ice cream, burgundy cherry and pistachio. I want chocolate sauce and toasted nuts. Almonds. And they have to be toasted.
GLD: Still cook for yourself?
CH: I probably cook more in New York. At home in DC my husband does most of the cooking. Interestingly enough, the meal that I love in NYC that I feel I can’t go out and get is collard greens and cornbread and some sort of slow cooked beans. A good pot licker!
GLD: Any new projects?
CH: Oh, thank you so much for asking! My cookbook comes out Nov 6 on Election Day. My mantra is Vote. Buy. Cook. We have a line of sweet and savory cookies called Carla Hall Petite Cookies. I’ve been working on that project since Top Chef All-Stars. It was also a tongue-in-cheek response to catering when people would go through a buffet line and break something in half and leave the other half. So I decided to come up with something so small that you can’t break it in half.
GLD: Tell us about your cookbook.
CH: It’s basically my journey from being a little girl in the south and some of the things my mother made. Even though she didn’t cook, she inspired some of the things I do now. At the end of the day it all comes back to food and love and how that all connects. It’s called Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You. You can pre-order on Amazon.com. (puts on announcer voice) That’s amazon.com.
GLD: You know you have a big gay following.
CH: I did Broadway Sings for Pride so I presented one of the awards. I have a huge gay following in DC. I would like to open up a flagship cookie store in DC right there in the gay community because they’re so loyal. And so supportive. And so big, as I am. I think we relate to each other.
GLD: You know you’ve made it when you run into a drag queen impersonating you.
CH: Honestly, if that happens, I’m going to just love it. Can you imagine? Do you watch RuPul’s Drag Race? RuPaul was on our show. You know I dance on our show and he danced with me. He got down in his pink suit and was voguing. I’m not used to being out-danced.
GLD: Have you been on Ellen? You should have a dance-off.
CH: No, but I’d love to. Ellen, call me! I’m hoping when the cookbook comes out I can go out to LA and do Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen. I have it all planned out in my head. Not sure if anyone else does.
CH: It’s crazy. We have Chick-fil-A in DC and interestingly enough, I remember when they were just in the malls. It was awesome, it was great. Everyone’s so nice. They’re so friendly, flowers on the table. Then this comes out and they don’t support gay marriage? I’m like (makes sound of screeching brakes). This is me putting my head in my hands making a face like, “I can’t believe it.” You know, I just don’t understand. It all comes back to love. If you say that you love people, it’s unconditional. It’s not judgmental. This is why I have a huge problem with religion and judging and accepting people. This is why I tell people I’m not religious, I’m spiritual because I don’t want to fall into any dogma and rules that don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense, so we’re boycotting Chick-fil-A.
GLD: Yes, we love us some Chick-fil-A. Hard to boycott, but seeing the lines of people supporting them was really heartbreaking. And one black man was interviewed and said Jim Crow was unacceptable discrimination, but discriminating against gays is OK. We’ve always thought gays and blacks should be really supportive of each other.
CH: You would think, right? And that’s what’s very interesting. The black community is very religious and conservative which is why you have the problem of people being on the down low. It’s constantly this hypocritical thing because they don’t see it the same. I don’t care if I see a homeless person, I may not give you any money, but the only gift I’m willing to give you is to look in the eye and see you as a person. I’m going to keep walking, but I’m not going to ignore you.
GLD: Well, it was a pleasure to get to know you as a person. Good luck getting on Ellen! We’ll set our TiVos.
Watch Carla on ABC’s “The Chew”
Order Carla Hall Petite Cookies at alchemybycarlahall.com
Pre-order Carla’s new cookbook at amazon.com