The Childhood Dish That Changed Carla Hall's Life - Exclusive

Carla Hall is a Southern chef whose Nashville roots continue to inform her culinary aesthetic regardless of which region the kitchen she's cooking in is currently located. A celebrated television personality, cookbook author, and children's book author, Hall is known for her warmth and the infectious passion she brings to all of her culinary endeavors. 

Her spirit of joy was cultivated at a young age — something she keeps top of mind every time she enters a kitchen. We recently connected with Hall at 2023's New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF), where she was co-hosting the baking competition event "Baking Championship: Fall Flavors" alongside Duff Goldman, to learn about her cooking philosophy and inspiration. 

To conjure some of Hall's culinary magic for yourself, she has a recommendation. "I would start with [asking yourself] what are the things that you liked to eat as a child and recreate those or recreate the things that maybe a parent made for you or a grandparent or an aunt. And start there with your joy." For Hall, the dish that first brought her joy as a child was ice cream. "So my grandmothers both would make ice cream from scratch and we would churn it in the old-fashioned churn. So we had to work. And the payoff was that we got this amazing ice cream." 

Chasing the flavor of memory

Many children — and adults — love ice cream, but Carla Hall's connection to this quintessential dessert extends well beyond casual affection. Since churning ice cream alongside her grandmothers was Hall's entrance into the culinary landscape, for her the ice cream they churned didn't just taste delicious, it was also deeply satisfying because she had a hand in making it. 

As if things couldn't get any sweeter, as a child, Hall learned about another iconic flavor pairing from her family. "One [of my] grandmothers would make a peach cobbler to put on [the homemade] ice cream." (At Tasting Table, we heartily recommend pairing your ice cream with pie or cobbler "à la mode," as the classic French phrase goes, because the combination is simply irresistible.) When Hall embarked on her own culinary career as an adult, she found herself returning to those childhood cooking adventures for inspiration. "I was always chasing that flavor because [my grandmother] didn't have a recipe so it was just my memory. It made it fun, it made cooking fun." 

Her childhood continues to have a strong hold on the way she approaches food. "Any of the dishes that I make generally harken back to my Southern upbringing ... I'm from Nashville, so my grandmother's pound cake, my grandmother's caramel cake. I would go to people's houses and they would have this caramel cake and riposte, [It was honoring] people who passed away, but they had great food, so that would be amazing."