“My fear wasn’t going to Paris at 23 and having one telephone number. My fear wasn’t going to London and not knowing anyone. My fear wasn’t traveling around to these places without knowing the language. My fear was hating my job at 40. I knew that if I said yes to these experiences there is an adventure after the yes.”
That was Carla Hall’s mindset that took her from attorney to fashion model in Europe to culinary school in Maryland. A Top Chef alumni, co-host on ABC’s “The Chew” and cookbook author, she shared her inspiration behind her latest cookbook “Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes Around the World.”
When most people think of comfort foods, they tend to think of heavy, Southern fare. But you go with a different approach in this cookbook.
Our view of comfort food is very narrow. I grew up in Nashville, and comfort meant mac n’ cheese and smothered pork chops. So I wanted explore how each culture approaches their own idea of comfort food.
You have quite the itinerary of traveling: Paris, Milan, Bangkok, Bahamas… and your cookbook touches on all these cuisines. How did your travels help your research?
I didn’t talk to chefs because this isn’t ‘cheffy food.’ Each dish has emotional connection behind it. So I talked to locals in the area, like drivers or small shop owners. It was the best way to connect with people instead of saying, “How are you?” I realized I had found their passion. They would light up when they talked about the food they enjoyed.
How did the recipe development process occur?
I had this idea of what I would do- it started with the recipe for chicken skillet stew. Then I thought of what vegetables I liked and how different cultures would eat them. The thread throughout the cookbook is that we are testing these dishes through the spices.
Speaking of testing the dishes, why didn’t you test recipes in a test kitchen?
We are designing these recipes for the home cook so we didn’t want to be in a test kitchen. I usually don’t use recipes, so when testing I would lay out the spices and oils that I thought I would need, but I portioned them in tablespoon or teaspoon portions. That way my co-author Genevieve Ko could determine the exact measurements.
You include several anecdotes to pair with the recipes. Why was that the hardest part of writing the cookbook?
It became like a therapy session between Genevieve and me. She would prod me, and we’d talk for hours. Sometimes it was emotional- I’d be crying or laughing when I was going back into my past.
What story struck a cord with you the most?
Any story involving my grandmother. I’d get emotional because when she was around, I wasn’t interested in cooking. I wished that I had learned more and cooked with her when she was around.
This cookbook caters to the home cook. What advice would you give someone who is looking to improve their cooking with your book?
When you are looking at food that way and traveling with spices, the food may not turn out the way you want it to, but you would have been on an adventure and learned something on the process. This is your recipe- it is not set in stone. Cooking is about your personal experience.
Carla Hall’s cookbook, “Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World,” is available to purchase now. Our favorite part of the book is the “Spice Chart,” where she highlights international cuisines and the key spices, aromatics and oils that influence their food. You can use the chart to create your own sauces, marinades or spice rubs.
-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog