Carla Hall puts her own spin on global dishes
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media April 10, 2014 1:10PM
Carla Hall will do a booksigning at Anderson’s in Naperville on April 15. | Submitted photo
Carla Hall, book signing, 7 p.m. April 15, Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville. (630) 355-2665; Andersonsbookshop.com
Updated: April 10, 2014 3:32PM
Carla Hall’s journey to celebrity chef and cookbook author began in an unlikely place.
Hall was living in Paris and working as a model, and on Sundays she and her friends would gather together and tell stories of home. Food, and the dishes their families would make, were frequent topics of conversation. That led Hall to start collecting cookbooks.
Fast forward a few years. Hall, now co-host of ABC TV’s “The Chew” and a “Fan Favorite” on Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars,” has capitalized on the idea of comfort food with her latest book, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World.”
Hall will be in Naperville signing copies of her book April 15 at Anderson’s Bookshop. (Priority numbers are available to hold a place in the booksigning line with the purchase of the new book at the shop.)
The book is a collection of 130 recipes from around the world, put together with colorful photographs and heartfelt stories of how people connect through food.
“The book is about making international foods very approachable,” Hall said. “Before I even thought about making the recipes approachable, I really wanted to show a way through food that as people in the world, we’re very similar and our differences should be celebrated, not ostracized or polarized. I wanted to show through our food that we’re very similar.”
To that end, each section of the book offers a brief description of a foundational recipe followed by some international variations.
One example is her recipe for Southern Chicken with Milk Gravy (Hall is originally from Nashville, Tenn.). If you take out the milk and add habanero peppers, tomatoes and bananas, you could be in West Africa. If you take out the milk and add heavy cream, Dijon mustard, tarragon and white wine, you could be in France.
“So you’re celebrating those differences and you have a whole different dish,” Hall said. “It’s not necessarily an authentic dish, but it’s taking those same spices and flavors and making something that you know, something that’s familiar but different.”
Hall also provides an international spice guide that pairs seasonings with their origins and possible uses.
“I think the reason people don’t want to venture outside of their comfort zone — especially with ethnic food — is because they believe that they have to go to a specialty market or that it’s too much trouble,” she said. “The fact of the matter is, in the spice chart, a lot of the ingredients and spices they already know. It’s how it’s put together that’s different.”
Some of the recipes are from her travels; other inspirations came from friends from other countries who prepared dishes native to their homelands for her.
“Some of them, like from the vegetable chapter, I chose my favorite vegetables and explored how I could use those three different ways in three different cuisines,” she said. “And you’re invited to try other flavors from the spice chart with seasonal ingredients.”
The book is geared for the home cook, she said.
“It’s about making the recipes approachable,” she said. “I thought about weeknight meals. How approachable can I make not only the ingredients but the cooking times? I thought about how many pots and pans you have to use. I tried to think about all of the excuses someone would have about not cooking and tried to address those.”
She started working on the book even before her first book came out, “Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You.”
“I had the idea — it was so strong in my heart, I knew I had to do it,” she said. “I started working on it right after I finished shooting ‘The Chew’ for the summer. It was really important to have the summer’s bounty for the recipes. I felt like every break I was working on the book. Genevieve Ko, who is my co-author, was right by my side coming up with the recipes. She would go back and test them in her kitchen. So these recipes were tested in a home kitchen, and we would go to a grocery store to buy the ingredients.”
Hall also owns Carla Hall Petite Cookies, an artisan cookie company. She received her culinary training at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and served as Executive Chef at both The State Plaza Hotel and The Washington Club. She earned a degree in accounting before working as a model and discovering her new career path in cooking.
Note: Visit suntimes.com/lifestyles for two recipes.