Top Chef's Carla: I Would've Sent Myself Home Too
It wasn't Carla Hall's day in the first round of the Top Chef: All Stars finals. First, her burner went awry during the Quickfire. Then, after a real fire, she chose to deep-fry her pork tenderloin, which didn't cook all the way through, thanks to more malfunctioning equipment, leading to her elimination. "I do think [we should get the best equipment in the finals]," Carla tells TVGuide.com. "I think that it's great to see us running around and get to the finale, but I think in these rounds that hopefully we would have everything that we need to make a great meal." See what else the Season 5 alum has to say about her undercooked and overly sweet dish, why she didn't do a new dish, and why we didn't hear any "hootie-hoo"s this season.
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Let's start with the Quickfire. Did you just get the bad induction burner by chance?
Carla: Yeah, absolutely, by chance. I think the power was going off. Honestly, I don't want to blame the burner, but in the moment, I [reacted quickly and] went to the one pot, when in retrospect, I should've taken another piece of the lamb, marinate it and sear it, which was my first thought to do anyway — not a stew. That would've been a better dish.
Could you have left the rice off since it was "undone-te"?
Carla: [Laughs] Exactly, it was "undone-te"! I could've left it off. As soon as I poured that rice into that pot, I turned to Hosea and said, "I just gave you $10,000." Tom said, "I can't get past rice that's not cooked properly." Me either. No argument there. ... My frame of mind wasn't there. It's also hard stopping the competition [in September], coming back to your regular life and then going back in [for the finals in January]. I didn't have the same focus.
How much did that affect you in the elimination challenge?
Carla: I think it was such a bad choice of dish that it was weighing heavily on me. Also, I didn't know we were walking into a kitchen with only fryers, a flap-top and a microwave. Once that got into my head, I thought I had to change my plan. I have to say that I agree with Mike in that — I can't speak for the other chefs — but I chose any easy way out. I don't think the food I did represented the competition well. It just wasn't an interesting dish.
You could've changed it after the fire. Why didn't you?
Carla: Right. I could've changed it. ... I had written my recipe and I was like, "I'm not writing another recipe." That would be the honest answer. ... We waited for two hours [after the fire]. It was an opportunity to change our dishes based on what we now knew the kitchen had. But we rushed to the store late and got what was available. Before, I had some prosciutto that would've gone on my dish so I would've had that salty to balance out the sweet in my apple chips. ... And they were right. The apple chips were greasy. Throughout the entire challenge, I was trying to tweak my dish. I was one of the lucky ones who got the judges the first go-round and everybody was tweaking here and there. Honestly, I think Mike's dish was great and he didn't have much tweaking to do. By the end of the fifth round, I had the pork exactly the way I wanted to. I still think it's too sweet.
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Did you have to deep-fry the tenderloin?
Carla: No, I didn't. What I would've done initially was sear them. Toward the end, I put my tenderloin, which was marinated, in flour and fried it because I didn't want it to overcook. I wanted to slice so that it was a little bit pink in the middle. They made it sound like it was a bad idea, but I don't think it was. The bad idea was putting too much sweetness and not balancing that out with spice.
You agreed with the judges' decision. Did you think you were going home?
Carla: Yeah, in the stew room, Antonia thought she was going. I said, "No, I'm going." It wasn't until Judges' Table that I realized how underdone the pork was. As soon as I heard that, I knew. I would've sent myself home too. I won't fight for a bad dish. ... I said this on the show: I would've rather gone home knowing I did a really great dish, even in New York at Ellis Island. I loved that dish. I would've preferred to go home then because I would've been out-cooked. I didn't want to go home with a dish that had technical flaws and one where I didn't push the envelope.
You and your husband were adorable in last week's episode. Any chance you'll be the new Match.com spokespeople?
Carla: [Laughs] Well, my PR people are reaching out to Match and perhaps I'll do some things for them. We'll see. The funny thing is, Matthew is so used to telling the story that he didn't even think about, "Oh, this is a plug for Match.com." And it was — in a big way!
I was disappointed we didn't hear any "hootie-hoo"s this season. What happened?
Carla: We did them. They just didn't show them. I know, with Matthew, people were saying, "Why didn't you 'hootie-hoo' each other?" Well, I knew where he was. He was right at the table!
What are you up to now?
Carla: After transitioning from catering, I'm doing a line of sweet and savory petite cookies. I changed the name from Alchemy Caterers to Alchemy by Carla Hall. It'll be a line of seasonal products until I eventually hopefully open up a café. The cookies are about the size of a dime. It's been fun. The nice thing about it is to focus on one thing. After working in catering, you change for the client. This way, I can do one thing and feel like I'm doing it really well.