Carla Hall Shares 'Top Chef' Memories And Her Best Cooking Advice

The chef and TV star's perfect meals, culinary inspirations and 'Top Chef' memories

Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we ask top culinary talents a few questions about the world of food and drink.

Carla Hall's idea of a typical day differs from most people's. "I wake up at 6 a.m., head to the ABC studio, shoot for half the day, then run to catch a yoga class, stop by my restaurant in Brooklyn and then hopefully, if there's nothing else, I can head home. But that's only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and only in the winter."

The Top Chef alum and star of The Chew may be known for her bubbly personality and signature catchphrase (Hootie hoo!), but her work ethic, cooking skills and desire to give back are also undeniable. After years of working as a chef, caterer and TV personality, her first restaurant concept, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen, is slated to open next month on the Brooklyn Waterfront. If the food proves to be anything like her hot chicken we devoured in our Test Kitchen, NYC is in for a real treat.

Name three things every cook should have in the pantry.

"It's so subjective! But I would say canned San Marzano tomatoes; some kind of acid, like vinegar or lemon; and eggs. With that, you can make almost anything."

What's the most exciting thing you did in the past year?

"By far, it was going to Mozambique with CARE to combat hunger and malnutrition and to learn about sustainable farming and fishing. Just meeting those women and working with them in their community was so rewarding for me. I'll never forget that experience."

What is your go-to food city?

"New York. In New York, you can get absolutely anything from anywhere in the world.

Sometimes I just really like straightforward food, and I had this meat loaf Reuben from The Marshall in NYC. It was so amazing that when I first had it, I started smiling, then giggling, then crying, because it was so perfect and so good!"

What's the worst job you've ever had in the food industry?

"I mean, catering was hard. I'm a recovering caterer, and I never want to do it again in my life, but it still had its wonderful moments.

Oh, and I worked in the Bahamas as a private chef. It is not as glamorous as you'd think. It got to a point where I just wanted to fire the client and go home, and that was really tough. I was the only chef, and I had to cook every day for 14 people, three meals a day. I didn't have any support, so I'd finish one meal and have to go right into the next. I literally worked an 18-hour day, passed out and got up to do it over again."

What was the best meal you had in the past year?

"It would have to be in Venice, Italy, this past summer. I had this fresh pasta with black pepper and cream sauce with a really bright salad, and it was so simple but so delicious. It was very memorable for me, because the reality of the meal actually lived up to the expectations. Everything about that dish was perfect."

What advice would you give a new cook or chef who's just starting out in the industry?

"You need to really understand your palate and understand the flavors that you love and want to work with. Taste, taste, taste, because the more you taste, the better you'll become at cooking."

What was your favorite part about being on Top Chef?

"I think it was the camaraderie with the contestants. It was kind of like camp, especially Top Chef All-Stars. We knew what to expect at that point, so we weren't as afraid, and every challenge was so much fun. They really just pulled out all the stops in terms of upping the ante of what we were doing, so it was really a blast. And I think that one of my favorite challenges was definitely going fishing in Montauk and then cooking that fresh catch."

Who do you consider to be your culinary hero?

"Alice Waters for what she's done with the Edible Schoolyard; Jamie Oliver for what he's done with young kids, his Food Revolution and Ministry of Food. It's really hard to pinpoint one person, because the one thing that chefs do is give back. The industry as whole has done so much in terms of hunger relief and bringing awareness, and I'm really proud to be in this profession."