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Chef 101 with Carla Hall from Top Chef

Previous culinary experience — I started with a lunch delivery service; I was self-taught. That was 1991. And then I went to culinary school in 1995, at L’Academie de Cuisine. My first job was at the Henley Park Hotel in Washington. Before leaving there I was promoted to executive sous chef. Then I went to L’Enfant Plaza Hotel. And then I was chef at The Washington Club. After that I left to start my own catering company.

When I’m not eating my own food — I don’t really cook for myself a lot, unless I’m eating something that’s left over. My husband cooks at home, so that’s really good. So when I come home, he’s like, “Dinner’s ready!” When I go out, I go for kind of homey stuff. When you’ve been cooking really rich and really fancy foods, you really want the homey stuff. I had a burger the other day, and the juice was running down my hands. It was the perfect burger. And it wasn’t highbrow, but it was really done [well].

Born and raised — I was born and raised in Nashville, Tenn.

Food I cannot stand — I don’t like liver. The only innards that I like — well, foie gras, but I don’t like innards.

Greatest cooking influence —  Once I had to go to an event for chef John Ash, and we were doing a recipe out of one of his cookbooks. I just remember thinking, “What a great chef.” He knows complexity and simplicity. I think from that point on, I was like, “Wow, this is the stuff I want to do.” There’s a highlight, the special point, in his food, but it’s not ostentatious.

Views on cooking TV shows —  I don’t watch them, but that’s what I do. I’ll watch HGTV because that’s something I don’t do. As for food shows, though, I honor them and I think there’s a place for them.

Strangest cuisine I’ve tried — I’m sure it was when I was in Bangkok. I’ve had dog, I’ve had horse — this is all Asian cuisine.

Must-have cooking utensil — A grater, a peeler, a chef’s knife, a paring knife and maybe a knife-sharpener. I’m not really a gadget girl.

Thoughts on Washington’s food scene — I think there are a lot of talented chefs in the area. I think a lot of it has to do with there being a few really good cooking schools here. There’s so much talent. People are coming to open restaurants here or in Chicago because New York is too expensive. Not to mention the political climate, and the people who eat out here a lot and consider themselves foodies. So it’s a great culture and climate for good food, and I think the up-and-coming chefs recognize that.

Worst kitchen disaster — Let’s see, [“Top Chef’s”] Restaurant Wars? No, once I had a soup that was breaking, or separating, and it was time for service, and it was like, what do you do? And you don’t want to be judged on that product, but what do you do? I try not to beat myself up about those things.

Biggest pet peeve in the kitchen — Perfume. Somebody wearing perfume or wearing fingernail polish. Perfume is a big one because with having other scents, you can’t smell the food. And sometimes not tasting the food before it goes out.

Three people I’d never want to see in the kitchen — Mickey Rourke. He’s probably loving me somewhere and I just lost him. Stuart Little the mouse, but I loved the movie “Ratatouille.” And the third would have to be somebody who is really negative and just screaming. I wouldn’t want their energy in my food.

Strangest things cooked — I will cook anything that I haven’t cooked before. I don’t think it’s strange; I just haven’t had the experience. I don’t recall anything strange.

Age — 44

Marital status — Married to Matthew Lyons


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