Author, TV Personality and Celebrity Chef Carla Hall will be one of the featured chefs that we are so excited to see at the Music City Food and Wine Festival this weekend. Born and raised in Nashville, her ties to southern soul food inspire her recipes to this day, even in her new home of Washington DC. The caveat? She loves making classic comfort food recipes vegetarian-friendly dishes, showing us all that comfort food doesn’t have to be super heavy. Carla is best known as a former co-host of ABC’s Emmy award-winning series “The Chew” and she won over audiences when she competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars” and shared her philosophy to always cook with love.
While she is currently on ABC’s “Strahan and Sara”, Carla believes food connects us all, and she strives to communicate this through her work, her cooking, and in her daily interactions with others. We’re thrilled to welcome her back home this weekend for an unforgettable MCFW Fest!
We got the chance to talk to Carla about what we can expect from her cooking at this year’s festival and get some insider tips to dining both in Nashville and in DC.
The Nashville Edit: What can we expect from your recipes for the festival this year?
Carla Hall: I am doing a couple of different things. I always like to show soul food in two different lights. I show celebration foods, which I think people think of as soul food, and I also like to show more grains and vegetables and everyday foods. I’m going to be doing a cookoff against Tim Love, and I think I’m going to do some type of a seared chicken thigh and some hot water cornbread — I’m super excited about it, and it’s a dish that even delicious when it’s vegetarian. I really like showing people that soul food or southern food is just as delicious when it’s vegetarian, so I tend to do vegetarian dishes.
TNE: As a Nashville native, how has your southern background influenced the food you make and the recipes you create?
CH: I mean, it’s so funny. When people ask me where I’m from, I’ve lived in DC since ’98, but I still say “I am from Nashville and I live in DC and I work in New York.” Because I can never get away from my southern upbringing, it gives people an idea of who I am. Whenever I am judging food competitions, I am always sharing my perspective from [a southern upbringing]. I love that, because a lot of times the judges may be from New York or they’re Italian, and that’s their perspective.
TNE: Has living in DC influenced the recipes you create at all?
CH: No, I think they’re still part of the south. I mean, I do live in the Southern part of DC…
TNE: You often say something along the lines of “food connects us all.” How have you made this a focal point of your career, and why is this important to you?
CH: I think when people talk about their food memories, it gives you a window into someone’s world. You can ask somebody “How are you doing?” or you can ask, “What is a food memory that you have from your childhood?” It tells you more about that person than a simple “How are you doing?” Throughout my career, especially now, I’ve been making biscuits with strangers. And the reason I do that is that it’s a very comforting and a community-building activity to not only break bread together but to make bread together.
“… it’s a very comforting and a community-building activity to not only break bread together but to make bread together.”
– Carla Hall
TNE: What is your favorite dish to whip up if you’re having guests over?
CH: Going into fall and winter, one of the things that I like to do is chicken and dumplings. I usually put fresh herbs in the dumplings and maybe some lemon zest. Living in DC, a lot of my friends are from the South and they’re like, “Oh, this is great and brings back memories,” or they’re not, and they’re like, “Oh, I love this!”
TNE: You don’t drink alcohol, so what will be your drink of choice at MCFW this year?
CH: One of the things that I like to drink is tea, specifically sweet tea soda. I make a sweet tea simple syrup, and add it to a sparkling lemon seltzer so that it’s fizzier and not as sweet.
TNE: What are some of your favorite dining spots in Nashville when you’re visiting home?
CH: I like Deacon’s New South — their coconut cake is amazing, and they have these amazing rolls. You must go! I usually also go see my friends at Prince’s Hot Chicken and Hattie B’s. I’ll go over there and be like, “Hey, what’s up?” In terms of dessert, I love Cupcake Collection near Monell’s. And I love Monell’s because I love eating with strangers!
TNE: Is there a spot in Nashville you’ve got to go to, without fail, every time you’re in town?
CH: You’re going to be surprised when I tell you… actually no, I’m not going to mention it since it’s not about Music City Food and Wine.
TNE: You can mention it! We’d love to know!
CH: (laughs) You know what’s so funny… when I’m with my mom, every Friday, we get one piece of fish and one hushpuppy from Captain D’s. We don’t have them up here [in DC], and I’ve always been like, “Mom, why do you do that!” Then I tried it once, and I said, “Okay, I get why you do that.” I also love Rolf & Daughters, and I love the burgers and pizza at Emmy Squared. And, Martin’s Bar-B-Que‘s bologna sandwich is so good.
TNE: I don’t think I would ever think to get a bologna sandwich at Martin’s!
CH: It’s really thick-cut — about an inch and a half thick. It’s smoked and then fried, and they put this relish on it with this beautiful bun. Just, oh my God. So good.
TNE: Is there a music venue here in Nashville that you love going to?
CH: Honestly, we would sometimes just go up and down 2nd Street to find live music. I love the idea of going to the Grand Ole Opry because it’s just such a beautiful place to go. If I’m with friends, I just say “You know what, let’s just go in and out of bars.” I actually do like country music, and I enjoy the different kinds of country music, even country-pop. There are so many people who come down from New Jersey who loves country music, but it’s nice that there are so many different genres in Nashville at this point. Oh, you can’t forget Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar!
TNE: Can you list some dining recommendations for those of us who may be visiting DC soon?
CH: Gosh, there’s a restaurant opening every day in DC. One of my favorite places for ramen is Daikaya. I love Shouk, which is a fast and casual vegan place that has amazing vegetarian burgers. Kith and Kin and The Red Hen are both delicious. And I love Indique or Rasika for Indian food.
TNE: Your latest book Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration came out last October. Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
CH: I’m actually working on my fourth book, which will be more of a memoir. But, it will be a minute. As a matter of fact, when I’m in Nashville, I’m taking the woman who is writing it for me around to all of these different places from when I was growing up. Hopefully, they’re still there. Many times, people think that if you’re on television then it’s been a very easy road, but there have been a lot of challenges. When I first appeared on Top Chef, I was already 44 years old. Now, at 55, I want to share my lessons learned.