Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cooking with Carla Hall

My wife purchased a Groupon to attend a cooking class with celebrity Top Chef contestant Carla Hall. At the time I think both of us were pretty busy with work and I said, "Sure, cool, that sounds fun". By the way, did I mention the class sold out in 3 hours? The other day...finally in January of 2011, we attended the event. Wow, what an honor!

Chef Carla Hall is a pretty down to earth lady who is a chef caterer (Alchemy Catering) and got her recent notoriety from Top Chef Season 5. As we drove to the event I said to Meghan, "As a caterer, how did this lady get discovered?" It wasn't like she was some hot shot molecular gastronome making sprays, foams, and pollen dusts with a bustling resume under the most famous Michelin Star Chefs...Meghan said, "I guess probably because her food tasted good".

Bingo! Chef Carla Hall apparently on a whim auditioned for season five, and made it to the big dance of up and coming chefs. And she was no slouch, making it to the finale and just missing the championship by a few mis-steps. In our opinion, she probably should have won. The gal has chops and is now featured on "Top Chef All Stars". She has gone from this familiar quirky and often hilarious down to earth character on season 5, to a favorite in our home. Watching her lights up the room and always brings a smile to our faces. She is real, and like a lot of the chefs on that show, she cooks with love and inspiration.

When you watch Carla, and you meet her, she always talks about adding love to dishes. She talks about ingredients like they are cherished children, saying that when you add the perfect mix of elements, the dish has "BADOW!"...and how the perfect restraint and combination of love will make that dish have feathers like a Peacock...oh yeah, and when you make a great dish..."Dance around, strut...literally, shake those Peacock Tailfeathers!".

The setting for this little "Cooking Class" was in her catering building. We dressed to cook and get dirty...but delightfully found out she was serving us a four course dinner with wine tasting menu, only to demonstrate and explain how she did each dish. Very very candidly answering questions about her experience on the show, her life's work of cooking, and showing us about her dishes while her sommelier paired those Peacocks with some really great wines. My regret of the night was not photographing the first dish of Smoked Coho Salmon, best Tartare I think I have ever had. Meghan HATES smoked fish and said, "Wow, best ever, I would eat that every day".

The dishes were delightful, healthy, and pretty darned simple.

1) Smoked Salmon Tartare on bagel round, paired with Fume Blanc, Chateau St. Jean

2) Fennel and Winter Greens Salad with Molten Goat Cheese and Champagne Vinaigrette, paired with Oak Grove Chardonnay, Oak Grove 2009 (8 bucks a bottle...holy smokes, it was so damned good with notes of toffee, caramel, and vanilla).

3) Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Rot Vegetable Ragout, paired with D'Autrefois Pinot Noir, 2009

4) Butterscotch Mousse with Almond Tuile and Salted Almonds, paired with Offley Ruby Porto

Note per note, gosh it would be such a long blog. Everything was wonderful, and it all sounds so simple doesn't it? We looked at the menu and said, "Really, is that it?" Pictures, tastes, and smells overran the titles of the dishes much like anything Chef Carla does. Carla is a really normal and nice lady who isn't showy and traditionally a "Diva Chef". But she can cook, and everything she made was ridiculously flavorful. And that's what we loved about was like a reincarnation of Julia Child...

Normal person who adores cooking, doesn't have any fussiness, and everything they turn out inspires you to cook more, and often because you walk away saying, "We're normal too, it's accessible, it's just love, add the love, make the Peacock, shake your feathers!"

Chef Carla embodies the reasons why we cook, and we thank her for inspiring us and giving us all those little hints on how to make our food have daily "Badow!"


  1. What an amazing experience! But where are the pictures of the last 3 dishes?? :)

  2. Oops. Up at the top. Doh.