Carla Hall's Views On How Popular Dishes Often Come From Necessity - Exclusive

Oftentimes, new ideas and inventions come about to fill a need, and this is certainly true about common foods. Whether it be a concoction you create when you're missing an ingredient or a desire to suit a specific context (the history of sandwiches, for one), many dishes we consume fit the bill. In a Tasting Table exclusive, Carla Hall shares some of the stories she unearthed when filming "Chasing Flavor," a six-episode series that explores the origins of popular dishes in the U.S.

While tracing the journey of innovation and changes that led to the creation of many of these foods, Hall came to the conclusion that "necessity is the mother of invention." She sees this on numerous occasions, such as when learning about the history of al pastor tacos, made with pork roasted on a vertical spit, an efficient meat cooking method that evolved in several ways as it moved across the globe.

That layering of histories shows up multiple times throughout Hall's travels, though often revived with different identities. "Something that was started in one place, as soon as it catches on, it loses one name and it gains another that is more ubiquitous," she remarks, adding, "And so why I think this show is so important is it connects those dots and all the things that you'd forgotten."

The multifaceted evolution of common meat recipes

When researching al pastor tacos, Hall learned that Middle Eastern immigrants forced out of their country during the downfall of the Ottoman Empire brought the technique with them to Mexico, where they opened shops and made a living selling shawarma. To suit local preferences, they needed to substitute lamb with pork, changing the spice profile to use ingredients more readily accessible.

Meanwhile, Hall's deep dive into barbecue unveiled a tale that also speaks to necessity. "In order to have the ribs, you needed to have refrigeration, you needed to have a lot of space," she explains. Although barbecue on a larger scale evolved as a result of having the means to store greater quantities of meat, Hall points out that the original recipes and methods came from individual kitchens.

Similarly, when visiting Virginia and tracing the history of whole hog cooking, Hall notes that the method was created to serve at political campaigning parties. Again, the story goes beyond what is visible at face value in many circumstances. "Who created the pit? It was the indigenous people. Who was doing the spices? It was Black people," Hall emphasizes, adding, "So what I saw was it's many hands, everyone had a part to play." Resourceful recipes that come together to feed a crowd, can be just as lasting as those that were methodically created.

You can catch Carla Hall on "Chasing Flavor" which is available to stream on Max as of February 1.