In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
Celebrity chef Carla Hall took a circuitous route to the kitchen. She studied accounting at Howard University and spent some years as a runway model in Europe before returning to this region to pursue a food career. After years as a caterer, she shot to fame on two seasons of reality television series “Top Chef” and she now co-hosts ABC’s “The Chew.” We talk to Hall about comfort food and D.C.’s culinary culture
- Carla Hall Chef; author, 'Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World,' co-host, 'The Chew'
Watch Featured Clips
Carla Hall On Her New Restaurant At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Carla Hall On What Bring To A Potluck
Where Does Carla Hall Eat In DC?
Caponata: Eggplant, Tomato, and Raisin Relish
Copyright © 2014 by Carla Hall from CARLA’S COMFORT FOODS published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Behind The Scenes At The Kojo Show
Kojo Nnamdi Show producer Tayla Burney decided to try making Carla Hall’s baklava recipe in advance of Hall’s appearance on the show. Here’s how it went.
Baklava. The word has a kind of musical ring to it. And the pastry of flaky filo dough layered with nuts and doused in honey has long been one of my favorite treats.
Growing up in a city with a large Greek community, Greek cuisine has always been part of my life even though it’s not part of my family’s own heritage. The idea that foods from different cultures can unite people from all backgrounds is the driving force behind Chef Carla Hall’s new cookbook and one of the reasons the book appealed to me. As she told our friends at Morning Edition, “Your nose doesn’t have to look like mine. Your skin doesn’t have to look like mine, but I can still celebrate you.”
So it was in that spirit that I decided to finally make baklava myself when I came across the recipe in Hall’s new cookbook. The idea of making the dish has long intimidated me–with all those layers and that oozy, but crisp structure–and I’d never attempted it myself.
On a gray Sunday afternoon I assembled the ingredients. First up was making the syrup, which was a snap. Next, chopping the nuts, which I did by hand, following Hall’s advice, even though my Cuisinart was sitting nearby practically begging to be used.
Then, it was time to put together the pastry.
Now, I’ve been cooking for a decade and have tackled some ambitious recipes, so I’d like to think I’m not quite a novice. Yet all that experience didn’t stop me from making a rookie mistake.
Filo dough comes in more than one size. Did you know that? Because I didn’t. Logically, it makes sense. Of course it would come in multiple sizes to suit different needs. Did I think about this before grabbing the first package I saw in my grocer’s freezer? No.
Sure enough, on second glance, the recipe calls for 18×13-inch sheets. Mine were 9×14 inches which I didn’t realize until I was in the process of assembling the dish.
Fine, no biggie! I swapped out the pan I had prepared for a smaller baking sheet and carried on. Now, again, if I had stopped to think about it, I would have reduced the amount of filling I put between the layers to adjust the proportions for the smaller size. But I was so wrapped up in the process and focused on not screwing up with the filo dough, I didn’t do that either. Which means the final result was a bit precarious and overstuffed.
Also, given the smaller size, I probably should have completely rethought the cutting process (which comes across as WAY more intimidating than it was – if you have a decent serrated bread knife you’re fine). The intended trapezoids and triangles ended up mostly just being misshaped parallelograms. (Hey … I never said I was good at math and spatial relations). If I attempt this again I’ll probably just cut rectangles or squares and call it a day.
Filo dough, while delicate, turns out to be no more frustrating and difficult to work with than rice paper wrappers. In fact, I found it less trying. The hardest thing for me to get used to was that each sheet feels like more than one when you handle it. Hall’s advice to toss any sheets that tear or are otherwise mussed was valuable and sanity saving. But overall, if you have your ingredients prepped, assembled and ready to roll at the start of this, executing her recipe should be pretty smooth sailing.
The results, when all was said and done, were yummy. Colleagues who served as taste-testers appreciated that the syrup wasn’t overly sweet, toned down by simple syrup and given some zip with citrus and spice. Several favored the packed-to-the-brim dough and actually appreciated my ratio mix-up, saying the recipe should be made with extra filling henceforth. Sometimes a mistake turns into a win.
And, as a bonus, I’m not afraid of filo dough any more.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor and chief of "Roll Call," sitting in for Kojo. Our go-to comfort foods are often dishes we grew up with, Grandma's spaghetti, Mom's chile rellenos. They're touch tones of familiarity that ground us and have helped nurture generations. But as we make out way in the world and explore new cuisines, we tend to pick up favorite dishes that don't come with family lore attached.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIMaybe the (word?) that reminds you of that amazing Greek vacation, the foe at the place around the corner from your office or a dish your best friends sister made. Here to talk to us about the common elements we see in many comfort foods and where she drew the inspiration for the variety of cultures represented in her latest recipe collection is Carla Hall. She is the chef -- she's a chef and author of several cookbooks.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIThe latest of which I have right here, "Carla's Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World." She's also co-host of "The Chew," on ABC and runs the artisanal cookie company Carla Hall Pettit Cookies. Thank you so much for being here, Carla and welcome and thank you for these delicious cookies which I did sample already, cheddar pecan.
MS. CARLA HALLChristina, it's so great to see you. And, you know, when I hear that theme song come on, you all, you can't see Christina but she was dancing. I saw you dancing. And...
BELLANTONII can't deny it.
HALL...it's really great to be here.
HALLAnd it's really great to talk about comfort food.
BELLANTONIExcellent. Well, let's talk about your new cookbook to start out with. So how did you find the inspiration for this? What are your favorite dishes?
HALLBelieve it or not, the inspiration came from the polarizing political climate.
HALLAnd -- I know. And how all of the politicians and their constituents were polarizing peoples differences. And I said, this is so disheartening. How can I show, through food, how people are very similar and our difference should be celebrated. So the first dish that I came up with was Chicken and Milk Gravy. Which is basically your typical smothered dish in the South.
HALLBut I said, okay, if you take out the milk and you add sour cream and paprika, you could be in Hungry. If you take out the milk and you add habanero peppers and tomatoes and a little bit of banana or plantain, you could be in West Africa. Or if it -- if you take out the milk and you add heavy cream, white wine, Dijon mustard and tarragon, you could be in where, France. Because she's like, don't ask me. You can be in France. So the idea is that it's all smothered chicken but we're changing the gravy.
BELLANTONISo you could go shopping on a Sunday night and have -- be in a different country every night for the whole week.
HALLYeah, travel with spices, it's so much cheaper than a plane ticket.
BELLANTONISo, your own food roots are in the South, so...
BELLANTONI...how do you continue to honor that heritage even while changing up, let's say, your Grandma's fried chicken recipe?
HALLYes. Well -- and that's the thing, I think, when we're traveling, I want to make sure that I honor the South and I don't want the food to become so homogenized that, you know, my region isn't celebrated. But -- so, in the book, I have Peach Cobbler, I have, of course, my -- the hot Fried Chicken that Nashville is becoming known for outside of Nashville. And I have an Apple Pie, but I threw some bacon and cheddar cheese in the crust. I mean, it just can't be bad, right? And then I have a corn pudding.
HALLSo I -- I take my favorite dishes and cream spinach and I change them based on where that ingredient may be used around the world. So even in the spinach chapter, I have cream spinach, which we all know. And then I do (unintelligible) so you go to India. And then you can go to the Afro-Caribbean and have a callaloo, which is a typical dish made with a callaloo leaf or spinach and it has coconut milk and it's salt-fish. But I don't put salt-fish in mine. And that's one of my favorite dishes in the book.
BELLANTONIOh, I should've had lunch before we started today. This all sounds so delicious. So, and how do you see the most overlap when it comes to different types of food? Is it -- is it the actual ingredients, is it the technique?
HALLI think, it's the technique. I think the techniques are very solid. I mean, if you're going to make a -- a dish with the gravy, like a skillet stew that I'm talking about, you're going to sear the meat, you take the meat out, you use the fond and the brown bits that are in the pan and you're going to add some onions and peppers or whatever your aromatics are. And then you're going to add whatever seasonings you want to add. And then you're going to add some stock. And then you may add butter or cream or some dairy type thing or even some stewy tomatoes.
HALLAnd after that, you put the chicken back in, you finish cooking the chicken in that sauce and then you call it done. And the technique is honestly the same. But in a lot of these recipes, you will see spices that, you know -- as soon as I say, I want to do international food, I think, people get scared. They think, oh, I have to go to a specialty food market to get these ingredients.
BELLANTONIOr my apartment's going to smell.
HALLRight. Right, exactly. Or my apartment's going to smell like garlic forever and it's going to be in my clothes. Okay, if you live in New York, okay, maybe. Because, you know, you -- everything is so small there. But when you look at the spice chart, I am getting -- I'm using ingredients that you can get from a regular grocery store. Cinnamon, Cumin, Coriander, Paprika, Curry, you know those spices, it's just how these different cuisines put them together that makes them unique.
BELLANTONISo your own upbringing, I mean, how did you -- you went from getting an accounting degree from Howard to enrolling in culinary school. What inspired you to make such a shift in your world, not to mention your modeling career?
HALLI was saved. I was saved. Now -- so, I actually wanted to major in theater. And when I didn't get accepted into Boston University, my sister was already accepted into Howard, I said, I guess I'll go to Howard. And I liked studying accounting. So I said, I guess I'll choose accounting, yeah. I don't know what else I'm going do. I mean, it really was kind of like that. And I love puzzles. So numbers to me -- puzzles, so I did that. But I was working for Price Waterhouse in Tampa, Fla., and I hated my job. And I remember my Grandmother and Mother saying, it's your job to be happy.
HALLAnd like, well, if you want me to be happy, I can't stay in this job. So I quit and I went to Paris an I've been doing fashion shows at Howard University. I started modeling when I was in Tampa, just to meet other people. And then I met some models who were going to Paris and I said, you know what, I think I'll go too. So I quit my job, two weeks later, after meeting those girls. I went with 10 words of French and one telephone number. And my -- I didn't even want to be a model, I was just running away from accounting or what I knew I didn't want to do.
HALLAnd I fell in love with food and Paris. But not because I was eating French food but because I ran into all of these Americans from New Jersey and New York and their parents were from the South and we were making -- we, that's the royal we, I wasn't making anything. I was just watching them. They were making macaroni and cheese and fried chicken and buffalo wings and I remember somebody saying, let's go to the market early because if they have turnips, we can get the turnip tops which they're going to throw away, to have turnip greens. And I started just watching. Before I didn't really care what happened before the food got to the table.
BELLANTONIAnd then suddenly you get the technique through training and you're master at it, I would say.
HALLYeah, here I go.
BELLANTONII should also point out, you were one of my favorite contestants on "Top Chef." But you know...
HALLThank you for saying that.
BELLANTONI...I sounded totally biased. But it is true. And it's just luck that I ended up here, hosting for Kojo today. So tell us what inspires you in the kitchen. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Email email@example.com, you can send a tweet to @kojoshow and our guest here is also on the twitter, that's @carlahall. So again, Carla Hall in studio with us today. So, now, this might -- this might be a question that people here remember, your catering company was...
BELLANTONI...in the area. So how did you think of the pace and approach to that work, versus running a restaurant and how has that shaped your career?
HALLSo I started -- I started in restaurants. I worked for the Henley Park Hotel, I worked at the Washington Club, I worked at the State Plaza Hotel. So I was working in restaurants and then I went over to -- to work at the Washington Club, which is more like catering. And then I left to do my own catering, which is hard because you're setting up a restaurant everywhere you go. And people wonder why is it so expensive because you're setting up a restaurant, everywhere you go.
HALLAnd you're just carrying things. You have to be super organized, which honestly I'm not, I just have great people around me. And you're carrying things. So -- and that's really great. But you're catering to somebody's wishes and desires and I think, for me, I loved to watch somebody's face light up when they're eating something that they love. And when -- when you're catering for -- when you're catering for somebody and they tell you what they want, it's like, I -- my job is to make you happy. And that is just the best thing -- the best thing. And I think -- I heard my Southern accent coming out.
HALLThat's the best thing I ever -- so restaurants are different in that you have a set menu and people are coming to you and you get to change that menu and you kind of listen to your customers but for the most part it's about the chef. And then catering is more about the customer in a different way. I mean, obviously, service in a restaurant is about the customer. But you get to kind of change your menu on a whim. And then I left all of that, I tell people I'm a recovering caterer. It's been like 923 days or something like that since my last catering job. And I do cookies. So I do cookies only now.
BELLANTONIAnd I will point out, so -- this is Carla Hall, Pettit Cookies. We've got a bunch of them here in studio, in this beautiful little box. I tried the Cheddar Pecan which was delicious.
BELLANTONII may be bringing back to my staff, the oatmeal cranberry white chocolate. We've also got pecan shortbread with vanilla salt, goat cheese cranberry, Mexican chocolate chip and chocolate hazelnut praline. Praline, is that the right way to say it (unintelligible) ?
HALLYeah, Praline -- yes.
BELLANTONINow, what's your favorite of these?
HALLMy favorite is the pecan shortbread with vanilla salt. I actually use that one in my banana pudding. So I layer it, sort of a last minute banana pudding. So I have the components and I put it in the cup. And then I will Brule the bananas on top. So, yum, just so yummy. But I like the cheddar pecan with the Mexican chocolate chip because you get a little bit of sweet and savory. I know, I know girl. I know, I know. But if I could toot the horn of Mike Isabella, who's a local...
HALL...you know, graffiato. We actually developed the chocolate hazelnut praline for him. He was our inspiration because he opened up Grab and Go, his Italian deli. And we wanted to take the flavors of Nutella. And so that's how we came up with that cookie. So, thank you, Mike.
BELLANTONIYes, thank you, Mike, if you are listening. And if you are listening and you have questions for Carla Hall, give us a call at 800-433-8850, send a tweet to @kojoshow or email firstname.lastname@example.org. So back to the difference between catering and restaurants. So your catering background probably helped you on Top Chef which people will know Mike Isabella from as well.
HALLNo. It did, absolutely. Because you're thrown into a kitchen that you do not know and you're like, okay. You kind of get the lay of the land very quickly because you do -- you're used to doing that in catering. And you are not putting out just one place, you're making food for 50 people, a 100 people, 200 people. And I would always choose the dish based on where we might be cooking. Because if you're doing something that's ala minute that you had -- which means you have to prepare, like, at -- right when you're going to give it to somebody, that dish will not work.
HALLYou have to make something for the masses and then serve it and something that will hold, something that's not going to be fried and that's going to die, if you make it ahead. All of those things, and I think catering absolutely helped me with that.
BELLANTONISo I'm going to a pot luck tonight and I had to bake this on Monday night, I needed to have something that would hold up...
BELLANTONI...so I made brussel sprouts. I made some with bacon and some without bacon. So hopefully those are going to hold up, they just need to go in the oven. Is that good -- what do you recommend people bring to potlucks?
HALLThat's -- I mean, that's good. I think, nothing -- anything that's a casserole dish, anything in a casserole, anything that reheats beautifully. Anything, honestly, that you can reheat at home and then take it because the last thing a -- oh my gosh, you guys, the last thing you want to do is to need someone's oven when you get to the potluck. They do not want you to need space, they really don't.
BELLANTONIAnd it heats up the whole place, wherever you're having the party, nobody wants that.
HALLOr they have their own food in there. They have their own food in the oven and they need it at 350 degrees and your dish needs to be at 375, so how do you manage that? A casserole is really good because, in the Pyrex dish or in your casserole dish or in a enamel coated, cast iron pot, it stays hot. So you can put the top on, you can bring it to someone's home and it's great. Salads are great too.
BELLANTONINow we are going to talk about -- we might be seeing a little of Carla Hall at airports. We're going to talk about that after a very short break. Again, I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we will be right back with Carla Hall.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi today. And we are talking with chef Carla Hall who is about to be at an airport near you. So Carla, here in studio we have just been munching on some delicious baklava that one of Kojo's producers made. It's delicious. And we -- that might be why we're a little sticky.
HALLI know. It is so good. And I always take -- even on The Chew I take my bites just a little too big to come back to talk. So it is so delicious. And that lemon citrus simple syrup with the nuts, and the nuts are chunky and just, oh, so good.
BELLANTONIIt's perfect. So tell us what we're going to see at terminal A at Reagan National Airport here in Washington -- or actually in Virginia but Washington area.
HALLWell, you know, it's Washington's airport. So this -- I was approached by OTG, which is a company that got the contract to redo this terminal. And it -- I call this project for me OPR, Other People's Restaurants, because I can kind of go in with their money and do my best and actually consult with them. And you -- it'll be southern food. They'll be my recipes. And the name of the restaurant will be Page. And I kind of get to test the waters.
HALLPeople are always asking me, do you want to open a restaurant? Where's your restaurant? Where is it? Can I go? I'm like, oh I don't have a restaurant. I have cookies. So now I'll be able to say, you can actually go through Reagan National Terminal A and try my food. There'll be mac and cheese, there will be chicken pot pie, there will be some southern desserts, maybe there'll be chicken, we'll see. But the menu isn't finalized but I know it's going to be southern.
BELLANTONIAnd are these all things people can take on the planes with them, take a little bit of your culture and tradition wherever they're going?
HALLYou can take your comfort food on the plane and feel like you're at grandma's Sunday supper.
BELLANTONIExcellent. So Robert in Washington, D.C. wants to know why you've kept D.C. as your home base. Hi, Robert. Thanks for joining us.
ROBERTHi. I'm (unintelligible) and a great supporter. And one of the things I love about Carla is that she's become globally known and doing a lot of work all over the country and of course the world. But she seems to be keeping D.C. and Maryland her home base, which of course we love. I was just wondering why she's doing that and not sticking to, you know, the big cities like New York?
HALLWhat do you mean? We are the big city. Hey, Robert, how are you?
HALLNo. I appreciate you calling. I love coming home to D.C.. You know, when I tell people where I'm from, even though I've been in D.C. -- I went to Howard so I was at Howard from '82 until '86. And then I came back in '91. But when people ask me where I'm from I say Nashville, Tenn. I said, I'm from Nashville, I live in D.C. and I stay in New York. And I think that when I lead with Nashville, it tells you a lot about who I am and my sensibilities in terms of my culture and moving slower and talking to people in elevators.
HALLBut I love D.C. because it's kind of a small big city or a big small city, you know. And the people are very warm. And I'm not saying that they're not warm in New York but I like the green space and the culture here. And we're getting lots of foods. And it's manageable to me. And I love New York but I also -- I really love coming back to D.C., I do. And I -- you know, I come back every other weekend. And actually lately I've been coming back every single weekend. My husband's like, aren't we going to go back up to New York? I'm like, no, I'm going home. You know, and my home and husband are here too.
BELLANTONIThat makes a difference, for sure. Do you have a favorite restaurant in Washington?
HALLIt changes. Gosh, we've had so many new restaurants -- I think 200 restaurants opened in D.C. in 2013. And I want to believe -- and I may be misspeaking -- that we have one of the fastest growing restaurant scenes in the country...
BELLANTONIThat is accurate.
HALL...you know. And it's amazing. And so I don't want to say I have a favorite but we go to 8407 a lot because it's near our home. We go out for (unintelligible) a lot in Rockville. And Republic just opened in Tacoma on the Maryland side, so we go there. When I get home I don't want to travel anywhere. But, you know, sometimes we go down to Spikes Place to get a burger -- get (unintelligible) burger and a shake. But it changes.
HALLYou know, I had fried chicken at Pearl Dive and I actually said, I want you to put it in the boxes and we're coming in and we're getting it to go. And we went for a picnic.
BELLANTONIExcellent. That sounds like a really great afternoon. So -- and we will talk more about Carla's comfort foods, favorite dishes from around the world. Tell us what you look for when you buy a cookbook. Give us a call at 800-433-8850, like Steve did from Washington. Steve, you have a question about cookies. Hi, Steve.
STEVEYes. Hi, Caroline (sic) . How are you doing today?
STEVEGood. Quick question, my friend Lisa Horowitz (sp?) started having cookie tables at all her kids' weddings. That was her big contribution. And she's an incredible home baker as it is. And I wanted to know if you've explored -- tradition, if you found which, you know, whether this is across America, you've run into cookie tables at weddings or if this is something new to your ears?
BELLANTONIAnd this is brides cooking their own stuff at their own wedding?
STEVEThis is usually the mom of either the bride or the groom because in this case, Lisa happened to be both, you know, at different times. And she launched this. And then I do some food writing so I started looking into it and I found actually there seems to be some traditions around the country of there being cookie tables at weddings because they're such a warm, you know, handheld personal thing. So I just wanted to ask Carla if she knew of that and had thought much about it.
BELLANTONICarla's very excited.
HALLYou cannot see me but if you were here I would be giving you a squeeze because when I cater I always -- well, first of all, I love little desserts. And I love cookies and they are approachable. And -- but the -- my cookies, you can't see them but they're the size of sugar cubes. And I started doing them when I was catering because I wanted people to have just a little something sweet, if they didn't want the dessert that we had prepared.
HALLAnd I always did cookies for one of my clients in particular for his big Christmas party at his dentist office. We would have all of these little -- I know, right. Okay. It's an oxymoron, there are all these sweets. The dentist loves sugar, okay. Maybe that's why he became a dentist. But our clients started buying the cookies because whenever we had them at events they were like, these are great. And I love it.
HALLAnd when you think about a Viennese dessert table, you know, all of those little things and the spreads. And I think a cookie kind of -- it tells you a little bit about that culture. And it's like the cookie swap and we know them during the holidays. And I didn't actually know that a lot of people were doing them. They're perfect. I know I always have them at my parties. And instead of five women having one plate and five forks, I thought that they should have their buffet of cookies. And so a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And we do sweet and savory, so yea Steve, yea Lisa.
BELLANTONIInteresting tradition. So now back to the book and switching from cookies to vegetables, so peas, like many vegetables, inspire strong feelings on both sides. So as your Top Chef fans will recall, you love peas. Is there one recipe you'd recommend to someone who doesn't love peas?
HALLWell, I'm going to say the last supper buttered peas. I just did a dinner last night at the National Press Club. And there was a gentleman there, his wife came up to me and said, I want you to look over to the table way over there, that's my husband and he is eating your peas. He is eating vegetables. He does not eat green things.
HALLSo chef Susan Delbert had taken not only the green peas, but she also used snow peas and sugar snap peas, so any peas. And you blanch them and then you toss them in a lemon thyme butter, so it's a compound butter with shallots and lemon and thyme. And then right at the last minute you're going to put tarragon in them. And that tarragon, that licorice, it is a match made in heaven. And then you had just a little bit of water so you have this butter sauce around the peas. Oh, I'm telling you, people who do not like peas, you get someone who loves peas to make them for you.
BELLANTONIAnd this, you know, shouldn't intimidate anybody. I mean, blanching -- not everybody will be familiar with that term but it's fairly easy, right?
HALLIt's fairly easy. So you just boil some water. You put salt in it and you -- and these are peas that are raw, so fresh peas. So you put them in the boiling salted water. And then as soon as you bring them up and they turn bright green you're going to cook them for about 2 minutes, you go right into your sauce. But if you're using frozen peas, that's okay too. You just thaw the peas first.
HALLNow, you want to thaw the peas first because when I was doing this recipe and I said, oh let me just dump my peas in there, knowing that I shouldn't have, they will seize and now you have a piece of ice in your butter.
BELLANTONIWow. So Gail has a question for you about the Top Chef experience. Hi, Gail. You're from Fort Washington, Md. Thanks for joining us.
GAILI am, and I don't know if I'll ever forgive Carla for not being my caterer anymore.
HALLOh, hi Gail. Oh my god. Gail Christopher.
HALLHow are you doing?
BELLANTONIWow, small world.
GAILI'm fine. I happen to be home today. But I wondered if you could tell us what motivated you to compete, to apply for Top Chef and what it taught you about yourself or about the business of competing?
HALLI actually didn't even know about Top Chef. I was -- my husband told me about it. And then as a fluke, Katherine Newell (sp?) Smith who was the president of (unintelligible) at the time had given them my name. So when I went on I said, oh this'll be a great personal challenge, you know, just to push myself. And I'm always up for a challenge. I mean, I'm the girl who went to Paris with ten French words and a telephone number.
HALLSo I was up for the challenge. And what it taught about my -- about -- it taught me that I had this tenacity that I didn't really get my head around. I mean, I know I do things and I know I push through. It taught me patience, it taught me to accept the constructive criticism from people and not feel like I'm going to somehow die if somebody rejects me or my food. It is their opinion. And I always looked at it like here I have all these people, Tom Colicchio and the guest judges judging my food.
HALLAnd so when you're on the top you get feedback. When you're on the bottom you get feedback. When you're in the middle you get nothing. And so all of these people who were there, they were giving you this feedback. I'm like, oh my gosh, honestly the winners -- the quote unquote "winners" are either on the top or the bottom because they're getting this feedback from these amazing chefs that they would never get to talk to otherwise. And so it's really helped me kind of like get feedback and be open and take rejection -- not rejection but an opinion differently.
BELLANTONIAnd then jumping into a daytime talk show. I mean, how did you make that transition from being on a reality show to actually presenting yourself and interviewing others and having The Chew on television and all of those things?
HALLThat was really hard. I think that was one of the hardest transitions that I've had to make because on Top Chef I'm just cooking and doing what I do. And there happens to be a camera, you know, shooting you. On The Chew, not only are you interviewing people, you're cooking and wanting that dish to look delicious -- I mean, to taste delicious. And you're trying to keep up with this recipe, you're trying to share something about yourself and you are talking to somebody. And it was the hardest transition. And you're trying to look up and talk to the people who are watching you.
HALLSo it was really, really hard. It took me an entire season to kind of make that transition.
BELLANTONIBeing on television can be intimidating, especially if you're trying to perform. So we have another blast from your past apparently. Someone named Mero from Washington, D.C. is on the line. Hi Mero.
MAROHi. It's Maro.
HALLAnd -- right. And we took -- my son and I took cooking lessons from Carla at the (unintelligible) down in (unintelligible) a while ago.
MAROHow are you?
HALLI am so great. You know, those were some of the good old days. I love teaching.
MAROWell, it was a lot of fun for us and we learned a lot too. And one of -- well, first I have to say that, you know, my Italian heritage, the cookie table is a tradition that goes way back at Italian weddings.
MAROAnd so anyhow, I just wanted to put in a plug for your clam chowder. It was the first thing we made together and it was probably the best clam chowder I ever had in my whole life. And I'm hoping that I can go down to Reagan Airport and get a bowl at some point in time. I know it's not southern but it was delicious.
HALLWell, let me tell you. I have a cod and potato chowder that is very similar to that clam chowder that I made. And I also made an oyster stew that is very similar to that clam chowder that I made on Top Chef. And I -- oh, I think I won a car from that clam chowder. Okay. So you're not alone. But thank you so much. I want to say that in my cookbook, I am always teaching. I want to be over the shoulder as people are using the book. And so I make it very approachable.
HALLAnd I -- even though I know how to cook, I always try to anticipate the questions that people are going to ask me about cooking. And that's what I've done in this book. And I've thought about the ingredients that people use. I've thought about the technique. I've thought about how much time it takes to make the recipes because I know people are very busy. And so Maro, I hope that you're still cooking and I hope your son is still cooking. And I thank you for that incredible compliment. And I hope you pick up the book and try the cod and potato chowder.
BELLANTONIYeah, definitely. Now, how much inspiration did you pull from your family? I mean, I need to mention my own mother who was a chef when I was growing up. She went to culinary school, owned a Greek restaurant and ended up totally leaving the field of cooking, mostly because it's, you know, hard manual labor and it's a lot of work. And you're working crazy hours when you're a single mom.
BELLANTONIBut I was very resistant to her cooking when I was growing up. I didn't like a lot of food. I was really boring. So how did your tastes evolve? What did you learn from your family and how does that inspire what you do today?
HALLI always carry my grandmother with me wherever I go. And my granny, she -- I just saw her -- you know, she never ate with us. She would actually make the meal and put it on the table and then just walk around the table. And she would have her cigarette, you know, as if, you know -- that was the era -- as if it's -- you know, I don't want to say, well (unintelligible) . But, you know, she would have her little cigarette.
HALLAnd the love -- and I would just see her looking at us and just the love that she put into the food. And then, like, sort of presenting these beautiful dishes to us was just such a gift. And I think that's why I probably enjoyed catering for so long because it's like I'm the granny now. And I am giving this food to people. And that's what I do in my cookbooks and that's what I do on The Chew. And it really is very personal when you're sharing food with people.
BELLANTONIAnd you mentioned your callaloo so tell us where you got that family inspiration for that dish.
HALLSo the callaloo -- my brother-in-law is from Liberia. The jollof rice and the callaloo are mainly from the inspiration from him. And he considers himself a really great cook. So usually when I have something and I think, oh you know, I wonder if I could change a little something or if I -- because I know how to cook I can change a technique of this, you know, how can I change it, but I still want to keep what he has given me in this inspiration.
HALLSo in the callaloo I kind of -- I've refined it a little bit and I like a bright -- I love green, so when the food is green I want it to be green. I don't want it to be murky green, I don't want it to be a brownish green. I want it to be green. So in this callaloo I make the stew and I have all the vegetables, the okra and the peppers. And you have the shells from the crabmeat and the oil from the bacon. And so that can get as murky brown as you want.
HALLAnd then once that's cooked I take all of the crab out and then I'm pureeing it. But as I'm pureeing it I'm putting in fresh spinach. So then it's fresh bright green. And you get all of those flavors. And then in the garnish you put the crab legs back in, you put the bacon back in. And it's not his callaloo but I do think about him when I'm making it. And the same with the jollof rice. You know, it's basically -- every country in culture has some rice dish. And this is just simply rice cooked in tomatoes and whatever meat. And you can -- it's a great vegetarian dish as well.
BELLANTONIWe're going to talk a little bit more about rice after a short break. I am Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, talking with Carla Hall. And we will be right back.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And I'm here with Carla Hall. We're talking about Carla's comfort foods, favorite dishes from around the world and her new restaurants that are opening up at Washington, D.C. Reagan National Airport. And Eman in Chantilly has a question about cooking with children. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Eman.
EMANGood afternoon. Thanks for taking my call. I want to ask Carla, I have two daughters and my wife usually -- in our culture we teach the girls at young age, age 8 or 9 or 10 how to cook. And it's really -- it gives them opportunity to enjoy cooking. Meanwhile, I realize that you can go to university and be historian, you're not making that much money. Why don't we encourage the young girls that being a chef, it's really highly paid job, well respected. And you can be entrepreneur just like Carla, that you can make more money.
EMANBecause I notice today young girls they don't even know how to make coffee or tea themselves. It's -- they have to stop at Starbucks to get a coffee or tea. It's just amazing how much young people don't enjoy cooking. And why can't we encourage young people to have the courses that learn how to cook because it helps them in the long run.
BELLANTONITerrific question. That's something we've seen cut in schools. I mean, you used to learn -- had it as one of your semesters in high school and now nobody does it.
HALLI know, they took home ec totally out. And I think there was a period when women did not want to have to learn how to cook. I mean, because the mothers were saying, you have to learn how to cook because you have to cook for your husband. And they rebelled. And they didn't want to do it. So then you saw the men and boys starting to cook because they had to cook for themselves because they would meet this girl who didn't know how to cook. And they would say, hey I know how to cook. And the girl would be like, great. You cook for me then.
HALLBut I think that with all of the food TV, the food network, Bravo, you know, we have The Chew, a whole bunch of shows out there, young people are looking at food as sport. And they do -- they are interested in much more. You can also find a lot of cooking classes for young kids. And I think kids are getting more and more interested in food. I've taught cooking classes now at the Youth Garden.
HALLAnd what is so amazing, when you cook with a child and you're making something like -- not (word?) -- when you're making like caponata or ratatouille and you're using eggplant and you think they don't like eggplant. When they actually get involved in the cooking process and they like it. They want to eat whatever they produced. And that is the secret. That is the key. I think that when someone is told that they have to learn how to do it, they don't want to do it.
HALLSo you kind of have to bring them in without sort of forcing them to do it. And I think it's the same for boys and girls in terms of cooking. But not only are they learning how to cook, they're learning math, they're learning how to interpret recipes. And, you know, so there's a whole lot of things that they can learn from cooking.
BELLANTONIAnd we referenced rice before the break a moment ago. So you have what you describe as a foolproof technique for cooking rice. Some people say it's hard to cook rice. You know, I usually just use a rice cooker, I'll admit. But my best friend is from Afghanistan. She has a very specific way of making it, you know, from her culture. What is your technique?
HALLSo the basic rice that I do, I will put a little bit of oil in the pan and then I toast the rice. And this is not even the pilaf but -- and then you toast the rice. And then you put the water -- I do one-and-a-half parts water to one part rice or what I do -- and usually people do two to one -- or what I do is I put the rice in the pan, I pour the water and I want the water -- if my finger touches the rice I want the water to come up to the first knuckle of my finger.
BELLANTONIBut your finger...
BELLANTONI...you're finger's longer than...
HALLIt works out. I mean, you can take a short big finger, you can take a skinny finger, but it tends to work. I don't know why. A girl from Thailand taught me this little trick. And so for the most part, one-and-a-half parts water to rice. And then you bring it to a boil and of course salt or whatever. And then you put the -- you take it down to a simmer, you put the top on and you put it in the oven at 350 degrees. It's perfect rice. It's in the oven for 12 and -- 17-and-a-half minutes.
BELLANTONIIt sounds foolproof. So Angela in Upper Marlboro, Md. has been watching you on The Chew. Hi Angela, thanks for joining us.
ANGELAGood afternoon, ladies. How are you today?
ANGELACarla, I just want to say between you, Simon and Clinton that you absolutely make the show. You know, it's just food, which means that it's not (unintelligible) . You make it fun.
ANGELAYou never talk down to people. I kind of feel others talk down to people on the show but that's neither here nor there. But you always make it personable and fun, the skits and the cooking. And so if you had some growing pains in that first season, serious I'm just going to say I never saw it. So keep doing your thing. Keep your grind up. And the other thing, I'm just wondering, are you going to possibly think about maybe doing your own show?
HALLI haven't thought about it. I think it's fun to have more than one host because when you have one host, you have one perspective. But when you have five hosts, you have five different perspectives. And what it tells the viewer is that I may do it this way, but there are four other ways to do it. So if you have even a sixth way it probably works. And I think there's power in multiple opinions. So, I mean, that's why I really do like playing off of other people.
HALLBut thank you. I'm glad you're watching the show. It's fun. We all really like each other. And it's true, it's just food. And if you mess it up, if you burn something, you know, you laugh at it and you scrape the black part off and then you serve it with a sauce.
ANGELAWell, I think definitely you could have your own show and it could be an ensemble. Maybe you can just bring a guest star in and whatever you can cook. But I really think you would do fine having your own show. And if you feel comfortable with an ensemble, then do that. You know, then do that.
HALLOh, thank you. Producers, do you hear that (unintelligible) producers?
BELLANTONIYes. And by the way, you can give us a call at 800-433-8850 with your questions for Carla Hall. Tell us what is your favorite comfort food. Is it from a cuisine you have family ties to or from a part of the world you've never visited? So Brian in Washington, D.C. has some thoughts about some of our cuisine here. Hi, Brian. Thanks for joining us.
BRIANHi, how are you?
BRIANFirst, I was on hold so I got to hear everything. Quick little anecdote. We had the cookie table only because my grandmother -- my great grandmother could not cook. The only thing she ever made -- or she couldn't bake. The only thing she ever made was this horrible (word?) so it just this anchor of (unintelligible) ...
BELLANTONIWe hope she's not listening.
BRIANNo, she's dead. She's passed away since then. But it was an anchor of soda bread. We all hated it. And my grandfather liked sweets. And since he was cheap he's the one that learned how to make all the cookies in the house.
HALL(unintelligible) I love that.
BRIANSo the other one was a little place to give a try if you like the comfort food of chicken and waffles, down on H Street there is the (word?) . There's a really nice little menu -- chalkboard-driven menu. And I had some of the best chicken waffles I've ever had down at that place. So give it a shot. Really, really good. Like I said, it's fresh. They do chalkboard ingredients. And the other one was...
BELLANTONIThis is H Street Northeast, right?
BRIANNortheast, yeah. I taught cooking with kids for the longest time about six or seven years. And I agree the same thing. As long -- I had kids who would walk in and say, I don't like X.
BRIANWell, you're going to cook X today and you're going to taste X today. And then you're going to leave and guess what, oh I like brussel sprouts.
HALLI know. And there's such power in that because then that child goes home and tells their parent, hey, I like brussel sprouts, I like eggplant. And the parent's like, really? Well, I will buy it because a lot of times the parents don't want to bring home something that they know their kids don't eat. So it's up to the kids to be their own advocate. And I do a lot of work with Fuel Up to Play 60 and it's about them being their own advocate.
HALLAnd then some other child -- or they'll have an experience with this food and then they go home and tell their parents and they're educating their parents. And their parents are buying these. And that's when the things that they will eat grows and it's more plentiful.
BELLANTONIAnd it can be an economic issue where it saves more money to grow things or to go to your local grocer.
BELLANTONISo speaking of that, Richard has emailed us to email@example.com, "What is your take on the White House garden and Michelle Obama's eating initiatives?"
HALLOh, I love it. I mean, I'm doing -- I mentioned Fuel Up to Play 60 which is a program that came out of the Let's Move campaign. I love the idea of a garden. I think people have had more gardens. There are lots of gardens in the inner city using that space that would be vacant otherwise. There are urban beekeepers now. I think people are becoming aware. And this is the way that it used to be when I was growing up.
HALLYou know, I think she is reminding us, what was old is new again. And I think what we realize that worked, you know, decades ago is now working. Now we're going back. So the trend really should be, let's go back home. Let's do the things that our grandparents did. Let's go vintage. I love it. I love it, absolutely.
BELLANTONISo you've done a lot of travel but some of the recipes in "Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World" are actually inspired by places here in D.C., like the slaw from Zentan, right?
HALLYeah, Zentan. Susur Lee, he makes this amazing coleslaw. And when it comes out on the platter it's piled high and it has about 20 some ingredients. It looks like a dozen. And the top is a nest of fried rice noodles. And then the server will actually take the tongs and they will toss it all together with the vinaigrette and the dressing. And it is so delicious and so much crunch.
HALLSo what I did was to take the idea of Susur Lee's, this Singapore Slaw and I just call it a carrot and cucumber slaw with a ginger plum dressing -- and plums -- you know, dry plums are just prunes. You know, they had to rebrand them. And it is so great. It has jicama and carrots and cucumbers. And then you have peanuts and you have this gingery plum dressing.
HALLAnd it is so refreshing and light and it's the perfect dressing for a picnic -- I mean, the perfect slaw for a picnic because you can take it and its components. And then when you get to the picnic, your dressing is in a jar and you just toss it all together. And it's so good. And then I have the lemongrass ginger fried chicken. Oh yeah, oh yeah, you want that Christina, I know you do.
BELLANTONIA little excited about that. And it sounds like that slaw you could, like, spice it up a little bit with some jalapenos.
BELLANTONISo we -- oh, we just -- we're just going to go to a caller about the D.C. restaurant scene but we were talking too long about slaw. So another thing that strikes me about the cookbook is that you are so willing to credit other chefs and people that have helped you along the way or people that inspired you. And you're very collaborative we saw in Top Chef. So how has that influenced you? And do you think it influenced that competition?
HALLI think people -- and I've had people say this when I've been to cooking demonstrations and like, do you share your recipes? I'm like, absolutely. Because one woman was telling me the story about how this woman had something at her house and she gave her the recipe and she took credit for it. I'm like, do you realize that when someone makes -- I mean, I may give you the recipe but you're going to bring your own spirit to the recipe and it's going to be different.
HALLI mean, as much as I want you to make my biscuits, they're not going to be my biscuits because they're your hands and your feel and touch. And I really want -- and I realize that. I mean, so I think food is about sharing. And I always want to let these people know that I've had -- that I've got an inspiration from them, that they've inspired me. And it's the biggest compliment. And I want to give them that compliment.
BELLANTONIHow are you in the kitchen? Do you find, like, do you like to be a little possessive of your kitchen? Or you, like, let everybody in?
HALLI let everybody in. I let everybody in. One thing that people may not know about me, you know, people always ask, well what do you like -- what kind of music do you like to play in the kitchen? And I don't mind music once the food is done. But when the food is cooking I like to hear the food -- I like to hear the knife hitting the cutting board. I like to hear the meat going in the pan. I like to hear the sizzle, I like to hear the blender. I love hearing what is happening because of all my senses go into making that dish.
BELLANTONIThat sounds pretty delicious and also reminds me of sticking the finger in it, right. You've got, like, a very tactile experience in how you cook, which lends itself to television as well. We did get a lot of comments about the Italian wedding cookies. I will just point out we had someone also named Carla Tweeting, "Does Chef Carla mail order her cookies?
HALLYes, we do.
BELLANTONIIs there a website we can (unintelligible) ?
HALLYou can go to CarlaHall.com and we have beautiful pictures taken by Greg Powers, who's also local, of our cookies. And we have the individual containers in six ounces and we also have the gift box. They come in sets of three. They're already set up. You don't get to really choose which ones you put in the gift box but we've done that for you. And we did a great job. And then a six pack.
BELLANTONIExcellent. And Linda emails and says that "When her Pittsburgh are family brought Italian wedding cookies with them to her wedding in Maryland and that also when her cousin got married in Colorado, all the aunts took boxes out of their homemade Italian cookies as their carryon luggage." So that sounds pretty awesome.
BELLANTONIAnd then Nia in Silver Spring, Md. has a question just asking if you know of any ways to cook and create dishes by taking a class for leisure in the area? Are there classes you could recommend?
HALLOh, absolutely. There's so many recreational cooking schools. You have Suralatob (sp?) , you have Culinaire (sp?) down on 14th Street. You have L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. You have so many recreational cooking classes. There's a place on Capitol Hill. I can't remember but, I mean, I think every quadrant of the city there are cooking classes. And it is just such a great way to sort of like a one-night date night thing. It's such a great thing to do.
BELLANTONIAnd that would be Hill's Kitchen on the Hill.
BELLANTONIThe Living Social Group also did a bunch there. And unfortunately they just closed their facility.
BELLANTONIYeah, which was really fun but they do have a lot of other specials you can get. So we just got another minute left. Your final thoughts on what is your favorite recips in this book "Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World?"
HALLI talked about the callaloo which is one of my favorites. But another one of my favorites is the roasted leg of lamb with fennel. And it's right here in time for Easter. And whether you do it, roast it in the oven or whether you take it out to the grill and you butterfly it, it is so good. And then simply the whole vegetable chapter. I love vegetables. The green beans, I have cooked to death green beans with potatoes. I have roasted green beans with basil which is so simple. And I even have pickled green beans.
BELLANTONIOh, yeah. Pickling is a big trend too, we notice from reading that.
BELLANTONIVery interesting. I would like to thank all of the callers and emailers today. We couldn't get to everybody. This has been a terrific show. And of course I'd like to thank Carla Hall, chef and the author of several cookbooks including "Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World," co-host of The Chew on ABC and obviously of Carla Hall petite cookies here in the studio with me. Thank you very much for joining us. This has been terrific. I'm Christina Bellantoni, The editor-in-chief of Roll Call. I've been sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And thank you very much for listening.
BELLANTONIThe Kojo Nnamdi Show is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein and Stephannie Stokes. The engineer today is Douglas Bell. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website kojoshow.org. Thanks again.
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