Celebrity chef Carla Hall visited the USO Warrior and Family Center at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) July 21 to share her cooking expertise with wounded warriors and military families.
The visit was the first stop on Hall’s USO tour throughout the National Capital Region that also included appearances in Virginia at Marine Corps Base Quantico and the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir.
Hall is co-host of the daytime television program “The Chew” and was a finalist in the fifth and eighth seasons of “Top Chef,” a competitive cooking show. A native of Tennessee, Hall attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and currently resides in Maryland.
“I live near the old Walter Reed (Army Medical Center), and I’ve been there before to visit service members,” Hall said. “What I found so amazing is no matter what shape they’re in, they’re so giving and so caring, so it’s easy to give back.”
During the visit to NSAB, Hall hosted a cooking class for about 20 individuals, including Tiffany Smith, 15, and her mom, Midori Smith. The event was a surprise for Tiffany, who is a huge fan of Hall.
“She (Hall) is always bubbly and fun and if we’re not at home watching her show, we’re recording it,” Midori said. “We love to cook, and Tiffany and I cook together a lot.”
Hall showed the group how to make a Dijon chicken dish accompanied by a salad with lemon vinaigrette. Class attendees were able to cook the dish themselves with the help of step-by-step guidance and instructions from Hall.
Army Capt. Daniella Mestyanek, who just returned from a deployment, was grateful for the chance to meet Hall.
“This was amazing to come here and cook with her. I’m glad I got the opportunity,” Mestyanek said.
Hall’s rise to fame as a food superstar is dramatic considering she didn’t attend culinary school until she was 30, after working as both an accountant and a model.
“I worked for Price-Waterhouse as a certified public accountant (CPA). As soon as I got my CPA, I was like, ‘Oh, I hate it. I think I’ll go model in Paris,’” Hall said.
It was there that she fell in love with food.
“Every Sunday in Paris, all of the models would have a brunch and I loved to eat but I never cooked,” Hall explained. “So I started buying cookbooks and I just became fascinated. Recipes are like puzzles. I would go to restaurants and try to figure out what was in my dish and write it down in a journal.”
Hall was drawn back to Nashville when her mother suffered an illness. Once her mother recovered, she moved in with family members in Washington, D.C., where a serendipitous sequence of events led Hall to open a lunch delivery service she operated for five years before attending culinary school.
After culinary school, she worked as a sous chef and executive chef. In 2001, she opened her own catering company based in Silver Spring, Md., which she still heads. She was selected as a contestant for “Top Chef” in 2008 and returned to the show in 2010 for “Top Chef All-Stars.” She has also written two cookbooks.
Hall’s view is that food and bodies have a strong connection, and for those who are trying to heal, the right foods can help.
“Our bodies are basically like computers and they’re so smart, but we don’t listen to them. We have to listen and be in tune,” she explained. “Start with raw ingredients. When you’re trying to heal your body, it’s so important to let nature help you do that. Food is not the enemy.”
Hall concluded the event by offering dessert to the attendees – cookies from her petite artisan cookie line. She said she had a great time sharing her love of cooking with service members and family members at NSAB.
“The one thing that’s constant, whether it be accounting or modeling or theater, is I always wanted to be happy with what I did,” Hall said. “When you’re happy doing something then you can share that joy. The best thing you can do for people is to share the joy.”