When it comes to food, we love to speak to industry insiders, so we were particularly excited to chat with Carla Hall, co-host on The Chew, who just opened Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, a new spot in Carrol Gardens. We fell in love with Hall when she debuted on Top Chef Season 5 back in 2008. Not only is she an amazing chef – the Hot Chicken at CHSK is out-of-this-world – but her infectious personality – not to mention her collection of chic and colorful reading glasses – had us hooked from the start. Hall filled us in on the restaurants we have to try, gave us a must-make recipe for collard greens, and insider tips for hosting a great dinner party…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
I’m really incredibly lucky, because for most of the year I get to have an ideal food day almost every day. I wake up, I go to the set of The Chew, I eat a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, walnuts, bananas and berries with just a hint of honey just before trying lots of amazing new recipes by my co-hosts, and by our fantastic guests. If I was going to have a day of it though, a really terrific food day would start off with something light and delicious like yogurt and homemade granola with fresh, in-season fruit.
Lunch would be an adventure, something new – preferably in some new town or area of the city that I am exploring. I would have worked up an appetite walking around, so ideally I would find a great little restaurant with amazing Indian food and dig in. I love Indian food. After some more walking around I would be lucky and find a terrific bakery and have some pastries.
Then for dinner, something light, like an omelette and greens, and then something sweet a little bit later on for a dessert/snack – like my banana pudding on top of the buttermilk soft serve that we have at the restaurant – words cannot describe how incredible that combination is!
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I like to think that who we are and how we treat people is what lets us shine brighter as individuals, which is why it’s important to me to practice meditation and Bikram yoga in order to stay healthy in both body and mind.
The better I feel about myself and my health, the easier it is for me to focus on other people. Some of the other ways that I try and stay healthy and feeling my best is by eating as healthy as possible and by drinking a lot of water throughout the day. I also try to walk as much as I can – which is easy to do living in New York City.
What ingredient do you consider overrated? Which makes everything better?
I like bacon, but not in everything. I think it can be overused. Lemon makes everything better!
How do you balance health and a love of eating?
Moderation. The best bite is the first bite, but I had to learn that the hard way. I gained twenty pounds during the first season of The Chew. Once I realized that smaller portions are just as delicious as larger portions it was much easier. Of course, the little trick I also use is drinking all of that water. It really goes a long way to curb your appetite.
What’s your go-to breakfast? How do you always start your day?
Oatmeal, whether it’s winter or summer. I sometimes take those oats in the form of granola with yogurt and berries.
What’s the first thing you notice when you go into a restaurant? What’s the most important element for you besides the food?
The atmosphere. I’m a people person, so right away I’m looking around trying to see if people are enjoying themselves. I look to see if they look happy and relaxed and like they are having fun. If the food is good, people are always going to be smiling. The most important element besides the food is the staff and the service. People go out to eat for a full experience, and the service and treatment that they get in the restaurant has a major impact on that experience.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice was from my grandmother: It’s your job to be happy, not rich. Also from Clinton Kelly: Have fun and be yourself!
What’s a go-to weeknight recipe for you?
An omelette and sautéed greens. Easy, light, and healthy.
What are your favorite places to travel for food?
Before going to a new city, I go online to find the best food, from sandwiches and ice cream, to sit-down restaurants. I even do this when I’m on a road trip. Most recently, some of the great food cities I have been to in include Venice, Savannah, Charleston, Nashville (of course), and Miami.
What are your favorite restaurants in NYC and for what?
Via Carota for whatever seasonal vegetables they have and the fried rabbit.
Gato for the Vegetarian Paella and the Eleven Layer Potato.
The Cecil for the Coriander Roasted Carrots, Plantain Kelewele, Collard Greens Salad, and Tamarind Glazed Oxtails.
Cafe Luxembourg for their omelettes and ricotta pancakes.
The Marshal for the Meatloaf Sandwich.
Red Rooster for bar bites, mocktails and music.
Can you give us a great go-to dish in three steps?
¼ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
5 pounds collard greens, ¼” chiffonade
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large pot, sauté onions until translucent, then add garlic and red pepper flakes. Season with salt. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add smoked paprika and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add vinegar and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer for at least 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the collards: Working in batches, roll the leaves like a cigar, cut the roll in half lengthwise, then cut roll into thin strips (¼” chiffonade). Wash the greens.
3. Add the sliced greens to the pot and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
A main dish that impresses guests but actually doesn’t take much work…
A whole roasted bass or some other white fish with a bouillabaisse-like sauce (fresh tomatoes, fennel, garlic, saffron and herbs).
What do you always bring to a dinner party as a guest? What do you always put out at one when you’re hosting?
I always bring an open mind to a dinner party. If I’m coming to your dinner, I’m excited to try what you have taken the time to prepare for me. Whether it is a fancy dinner party or something more low key, I’m always touched when someone invites me over.
The food they serve is an extension of that hospitality. I always take a dessert if I’m asked to bring something. Something like my Granny’s five flavor pound cake. I always put out a board of breads and spreads when I’m hosting.
What’s always in your fridge?
Eggs, pickles of all kinds, about four different kinds of flours, jams and jellies to go on the biscuits that I make with those different flours, and lemons. I love a good pucker!
In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s the new potato in food right now?
I never really follow trends as much as I’m drawn to things that I like. I always say, “If you stand still long enough, you’ll be in style eventually.” I think that’s the same with food, because nothing is really ‘new’. That being said, I think vegetables are in. There are so many new vegetarian restaurants opening and having great success. We saw kale have it’s day, then cauliflower. Next, I think it’s going to be radishes – roasted.