Carla Hall's Road to The Chew

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Carla Hall's Road to The Chew
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Carla Hall's Road to The Chew

Carla Hall's path to Top Chef and The Chew was anything but a straight line. Discover the unexpected way she discovered her love for cooking, why she almost didn't do Top Chef All-Stars and what she thinks of her The Chew co-hosts.

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Of her early career in modeling, Carla says, "It was really a bridge between what I didn’t want to do, which was accounting, and what I eventually wanted to do—and I didn’t know what that was [at the time]."

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"I had done fashion shows at Howard University when I was there in school, and then I also did a little bit of modeling to meet other girls and people when I moved to Tampa, FL," explains Carla. "I hated my [accounting] job so much and I met these girls who were going to Paris, and I said, 'You know what? I’m going to quit my job too and go to Paris.'

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The best advice anyone's given Carla comes form her grandmother and mother. "'It is your job to be happy'," Carla recalls. "I took that to heart and my biggest fear was being 40 and hating my job and just withering away in some office and just dying."

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"I literally just quit and went to Paris and that is where I fell in love with food," Carla reveals. The models would host Sunday brunches with the American food they were homesick for, and Carla would hang out in the kitchen. "It was different from when I was a kid and I was never in the kitchen when the food was being prepared. I only came to the table when it was ready. I had no interest in food. It was something about seeing it come together that fascinated me, and I started buying cookbooks."

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Carla started cooking for her friends, and after a stint in London returned back home to the States. "When I got home, I started a lunch delivery service as a fluke when I was living in D.C.," she tells us.

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"I was the lunch lady for five years. I carried a bassinet of sandwiches and soups and salads and desserts and biscuits door to door—to doctor's offices, salons, barber shops and social service places," Carla explains.

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Carla attended culinary school at L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and afterward worked in restaurants for several years. "I was interested in food but I wasn’t necessarily into the whole restaurant scene, so I ended up leaving and working for a private social club and then I went from there to have my own catering company," she explains.

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After a friend submitted her name, Carla was asked to join the cooking competition show Top Chef. She returned to catering after season five wrapped up, but an opportunity at Top Chef All-Stars knocked at her door. "[I] resisted a few times, and then went back," she tells us.

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When asked why she was hesitant to do Top Chef All Stars, Carla explains, "The competition itself is really hard, but I really think it is what happens afterwards. Now, not only are you as a person thrust out into the public eye but your business is as well... I went on [Top Chef season five] as a personal challenge, not knowing how popular the show was. When you are not expecting that exposure and your business goes through it, it is very tough."

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"You are all of the sudden having to manage your appearances [and] the activity your business is getting. It is like a small restaurant being reviewed and all of the sudden everyone flocks to that restaurant and all of the sudden they aren’t producing the level of food the review said was so good because now they are overwhelmed. That is how I felt as a small catering company," Carla elaborates.

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"The only reason I went on Top Chef [All-Stars] was to tell people I didn’t cater anymore," Carla tells us of her transition to her cookie business. "I wanted to do one thing and feel like I could do one thing really well. Catering is like having a moving company and a restaurant. You are moving all the time. It is a totally different animal than a restaurant. I wanted to be able to do it while I was doing other things."

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But, her appearance on Top Chef All-Stars was perfectly timed. "I really think it is because I did Top Chef All-Stars and won Fan Favorite that the producers of The Chew saw me and asked me to come in for a chemistry test," Carla says.

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"The five of us were together for 20 minutes and then six days later they announced us as the cast of The Chew. It was magical," Carla recalls. "I remember I knew it was really special when we all came together for the promo shoots and [to do] all the ads and the commercials and everything. We got along so well and it was like this amazing play date. Mario turned to us and said, 'You guys, I think we are going to have a hit on our hands.' It was amazing. We all just felt it."

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"Clearly one of my favorite, favorite moments [on The Chew] was when Daphne Oz announced that she was pregnant and seeing our reactions—I was brought to tears and Mario [was] saying, 'I knew it, I knew it!'" Carla reveals. "It was as if we were in a family sitting around the table and someone had dropped this really happy news, and we totally forgot about the audience and forgot we were doing this show and we were just so elated for her. I think in that moment, people could see how close we are as a TV family and also how real it is. How our relationship is real and how we really do care for each other."

Image Credit: Jeff Neira

Carla describes Daphne Oz as "giving and smart" and praises her knowledge about food and heath. Watching Daphne become a mother has been emotional for Carla; "I know she has her mom, too, but on the show I’m her biggest cheerleader in watching her come into her own," Carla shares. "I’m watching her just gain confidence and strength and own who she is and it has just been beautiful to watch.

Image Credit: Jeff Neira

"[Clinton Kelly] truly is about [having] the best and most fabulous life you can have and it starts with you being your best and most authentic self," Carla says of her co-host. She adds that Clinton is "the quintessential professional in terms of how his mind works with the show. He comes up with these amazing, creative ideas working in tandem with the producers."

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Carla calls Mario Batali so "freakishly smart that it is crazy" and admires what a great family man he is. "When his kids are off, he is off work so that he can do something with them. I think that sends the most beautiful message to families to put kids first," she tells us.

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"His little giggle is so funny," says Carla of co-host Michael Symon. "I love how he embraces people. He is a pot stirrer but it is very funny to watch. I love that he jokes and teases and kind of brings people in the fold... he is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy and his Midwestern sensibilities I can relate to even being from the South.

Image Credit: Jeff Neira

Today, Carla also keeps in touch with many contestants from Top Chef. "I just saw Antonia [Lofaso] a week ago in Pebble Beach [and] went to her restaurant. I love her [and] love her food," Carla tells us. She keeps in touch with Antonia, Tiffany Derry, Ariane Duarte and Fabio Viviani. "Believe it or not, [I also keep in touch with] Stefan [Richter]—and Richard Blais because I’ll see him. I feel very comfortable reaching out to Spike [Mendelsohn] or Mike Isabella because they are in D.C."

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You might be surprised to find out that The Chew's Carla Hall discovered her love for cooking while pursuing a modeling career in Paris.

"It was different from when I was a kid and I was never in the kitchen when the food was being prepared. I only came to the table when it was ready. I had no interest in food," reveals Carla. But when the models would host Sunday brunches with the American foods they were homesick for, something clicked. "It was something about seeing it come together that fascinated me, and I started buying cookbooks."

Check out the slideshow above to discover how Carla Hall discovered her love for cooking, how she landed a spot on Top Chef and her winding road tohosting The Chew.

If you love Carla, check out her new cookbook, Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World.

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