Soul Sessions Podcast: Carla Hall
On this special episode, Chef Carla Hall is best known as the co-host of Emmy award-winning series “The Chew” and her appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars.
But her latest endeavor, a children’s book – “Carla and The Christmas Cornbread” - brought her to the City With Soul for two weekend events.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Paul: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, bringing you a look at the people, the places, and the events that make us the City With Soul. And on this special episode, Chef Carla Hall may be best known as co-host on the Emmy Award-winning The Chew and her appearances on Bravo's Top Chef and Top Chef: All-Stars, but her latest endeavor, a children's book, brought her to the City With Soul for two weekend events.
Paul: Chef Carla Hall, welcome to Soul Sessions.
Carla: Thank you. It’s really great to be here.
Paul: I'm so happy to have you on the program, this very special edition of Soul Sessions. And just right off the bat, you've been in Jackson, Mississippi all weekend long. How was your time spent here? You were a very busy lady, weren't you?
Carla: Oh my gosh. I was here with Enrika Williams. Whenever I come to Jackson, it's always connected with Enrika, and I did the Magnolia Sunset Market. I was over at the [Smith Robertson], the museum, and I had a book reading with children and a demo and a book-signing over at Soulé. I went to the Mississippi Museum of Art to see the migration exhibit. Dude, and I've eaten. I've had dinners all in between there.
Paul: I bet you had dinner one, dinner two, dinner three - all in the same day, right?
Carla: Yeah. Well, that's how we do. That's how we have to do it.
Paul: This is how you eat in Jackson, Mississippi, multiple meals, so you can explore all of the goodness that's here. You mentioned Chef Enrika Williams. How did your relationship with her come about?
Carla: I met in Enrika when we did a fundraiser at the Salamander Resort in Virginia, and we were the two chefs. We were paired, just randomly paired, and we had a plan this dinner. From that point on, it has been a match made in heaven. I featured Enrika in my Soul Food cookbook. I came down, and Enrika took me around. I met Miss Cindy at Footprint Farms. I met Miss Glenda at Sugar's Place. Whenever I come back here, I'm like, "Okay, what's next?"
Paul: Always something new and fresh and exciting in Jackson, Mississippi, especially with the culinary scene. You mentioned you were here for the Magnolia Sunset Markets, and you debuted some very special artwork that you created. Tell me more about that.
Carla: I know everyone knows me as Chef Carla Hall, culinary arts, but I'm also very creative. I love paper. I've been collecting paper for years, handmade paper. Wherever I travel in the world, I collect paper. I love paper and cards and books and journals. So I started doing paper quilts, where I take quilting patterns and put them on a canvas with paper. One of the first ones I did was like a yo-yo quilt with these round circles that look like origami, because I was missing my grandmother's yo-yo quilt. It had been missing for 20 years, and in cleaning out stores, because everybody was cleaning during the pandemic, I found it. But the inspiration was before I found it. That started this whole thing. Enrika invited me to the market to showcase my wares with all of these other amazing creative people.
Paul: Of course, the reading at Soulé Coffee of your new book, “Carla and the Christmas Cornbread.” How did that book come about?
Carla: I've always wanted to do... It's so funny. Whenever somebody says, "How did that come out?" I've always wanted to do a book. There's so many things on my list that I've always wanted to do. I loved drawing. I wanted to be a cartoonist years ago. For the last 10 years, I wanted to do a children's book. And this one, it chronicles my childhood about going to my grandmother's house for Sunday suppers, growing up. It evolved from what was going to be a memoir. I extrapolated one of those stories into a children's book.
Paul: Your audience - children at Soulé Coffee: I know it was a very limited audience, so in case folks weren't there, tell me about that event. Tell me what you did to help enrich those lives and maybe inspire them to be future creatives like yourself.
Carla: If you can hear my voice, and it's getting worse and worse, I tried to get through the book. It was very in interactive. It was about 25 kids. I was reading the story to them, voice acting, acting it out. But it was also interactive, where I was asking them questions about food and just about where their heads are around food and the storytelling process.Carla: After that, there is a recipe in the book, my Christmas cornbread… we actually did a demo, and they got to eat the cornbread with chicken and some vegetables. So they actually got to eat the cornbread that was made from the recipe in the book. And then we gave them these cornbread kits so that they could make cornbread at home. I signed the books for them and sent them on the way and said, "You are now the cornbread makers of your families."
Paul: Yes. Hopefully, inspiring generations of cooks just like yourself.
Carla: Yes, yes. And also the legacy of family and how important it is for children to know the recipes of their families, because that's how we carry our culture from generation to generation.
Paul: We've got to get those grandmothers to write those recipes down. When they tell you a pinch of this and a pinch of that-
Carla: It's true. But the thing is, I think that you can get a recipe in the storytelling. While you are here, and you can talk to your grandparents or your mom or whomever, record it. Record the conversation, videotape them actually making the thing.
Paul: We all have a movie studio in our pockets now, right?
Carla: Yes. Oh my God. Exactly. Exactly. You can do this! You have the technology!
Paul: You mentioned a couple of places in Jackson that you got to explore this weekend, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and of course, Soulé Coffee. What are some of your other favorite places here in Jackson? You've been here before. You've got the lay of the land. What do you like to do when you come here?
Carla: I went to Elvie's and had the best French omelet. Let me tell you, I don't take it for granted. The birds and angels were singing. It was so perfect. Oh my God. It was so good. We went to Elvie's. I went back to Manship, and then... Where else? Oh, we went to Aladdin, which was... their hummus was so good and pita and their lamb. It was so delicious. At Magnolia Sunset Market, they had all of the food trucks. So I had my first Delta Tamale. Oh my God!
Paul: Religious experience, right?
Carla: My first one. Oh my gosh. I had that, and then I had a seafood boil, which was delicious. Enrika's company, Fauna Foods, had these pickles. Oh, they were showed like a dill pickle, but in a spiral cut, and onions and okra, and it was fried in a cornmeal batter. They were so good. The whole thing, everything that I had was delicious. And then of course, the bubble tea at Soulé.
Paul: This is not your first time to Jackson. You've been here before. I want to know what leads you back here, time and time again, back to the City With Soul?
Carla: Honestly, it's the people. Every time I come, the connection of the cultural references, and I'm from Nashville, but to get some of the culture and stories. Whenever I come in, Enrika always leaves me feeling smarter than I was when I came here, because of the museums and the cultural references and the connections. I will be coming back again and again.
Paul: Well, we will welcome you back again and again. Chef Carla Hall, thank you so much for being with us on this special episode of Soul Sessions.
Carla: Thank you so much, Paul.
Paul: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Rickey Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.