It’s hard to believe but ebullient Carla Hall – a “Top Chef” fan favorite and co-host on ABC’s daily show “The Chew – was once an accountant at Price Waterhouse.
But two years in, she was sitting there bored and thinking, “I don’t want to be 40 and hating my job.”
So she quit and modeled in Europe. While there, she fell in love with cooking. Sure, her early forays were hardly memorable in a good way e.g.: tomato soup consisting of four cans of tomato paste and water. But once she came back to the States, she began a lunch delivery service, then attended culinary school.
After cutting her teeth in restaurants for a couple of years, she started a catering business. Iin 2008, her friends and husband encouraged her to try out for “Top Chef.” She was truly shocked when they put her on cast. “My eyes were as big as saucers,” she says. “This isn’t supposed to happen!”
Even cooler, she made it to the finals season five. Besides her food, her famous shout out, “Hootie Hoo!”, her laugh and generous spirit made her a popular figure on the show, so much so that the producers brought her three years later for the all-star edition, where she was voted fan favorite.
While many contestants found the pace of the show crazy and nerve-wrecking, Hall said it was oddly comforting. “I was used to owning my own business. This felt like a respite in comparison,” she says. “I only had to focus on one dish at a time. Nobody was calling me.” Still, she felt “pushed to the limit.”
Her fame opened doors. She even cooked for Pres. Obama fundraisers twice. And her exposure also led to her latest gig on “The Chew,’ a daily talk show at 1 p.m. weekdays on ABC with Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz.
“We clicked immediately,” she says.
And as most TV food personalities eventually do, she wrote a cookbook “Cooking With Love,” which is part diary as well. “If you want to get to know me and understand my food,” Hall says, “this is the book. It takes you along a time line as a kid going to Sunday suppers, when I started the Lunch Bunch delivery service, when I was modeling. The recipes take you along the path of my life.”
Feedback, she said, so far has been “really good. People feel it’s approachable. And the recipes work. One blogger did the mushroom tart and her kids loved it. They also like the butternut squash salad. They’re drawn to the love!”
Indeed, her child-like passion for food is infectious. “I’m like Peter Pan that way,” she said. “I’m like a big, six-foot-tall kid. And kids pick up on that.”
Book signings on Saturday, Nov. 17