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If the old saying is true and you are what you eat, then Carla Hall is a bowl full of love. The Washington, D.C.-area chef and owner of Alchemy Caterers is a major contender to win the biggest prize on Bravo's "Top Chef," which includes $100,000 and the honor of being featured in Food & Wine magazine. After weeks of grueling challenges, cooking under a pressure cooker of time and being painfully criticized in front of all of America, Hall has made it to the final three. She has already won tickets to the Super Bowl and a brand new car by acing the last few challenges, but does she have what it takes to chop down the rest of the competition? ESSENCE.com caught up with Hall to see what's going through her mind and who she believes is her biggest competition.
ESSENCE.COM: First of all, thanks for holding it down for all the sisters! You're the last woman left in the competition and the first Black woman to get this far. What does that feel like?
CARLA HALL: I'm the last one standing. I feel like a den mother now. I feel like I'm representing all the women and that feels pretty good. I've gotten a lot of calls from Black women and they're so happy that I'm coming across in a way that's not stereotypical. I'm just being me, and if I can inspire someone or remind people that they can do great things and compete without tripping someone up, then I'm really happy. That being said, I'm especially happy and proud to be representing Black women.
ESSENCE.COM: In last week's episode, the judges (including guest judge Emeril Lagasse) voted you as the winner of the New Orleans challenge. How did it feel winning that plus a brand new car?
HALL: I have to admit, it felt touch and go there for a while because of the oyster thing. [Carla had to shuck over 100 oysters by herself]. I should have followed Tom's (Colicchio) advice and steamed the oysters which would have made them easier to open. But I was a little stubborn, but you know, go big or go home. Interestingly enough, I'm from D.C. and Maryland and we have wonderful seafood, but I've never had to shuck oysters myself. If I had a catering job, I would just hire someone. A lot of people were like, Carla, I can't believe you've never done this but I admitted that I couldn't do it. I didn't want to pretend or get defense about it.
ESSENCE.COM: Who do you think is your biggest competition on the show?
HALL: I would say my biggest competition was myself. Whenever I'm not feeling confident, it doesn't have to do with another person, it's me. This entire experience on "Top Chef" was really about me overcoming any fears that I had as a chef. If I get kicked off and I feel like I did well, then I'm okay with that. I'm going to prepare what I would like to have and I can be headstrong about it, but I'm always thinking, Will the judges like it? Could I have done better?
ESSENCE.COM: How did you end up on the show?
HALL: A friend submitted my name and I went to one of the casting calls just being myself. I was really fortunate. I actually had a dream that I was on the show, so when they called me, I thought it was a crank phone call. But then I had just one week to get to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York with my 22-page application and video. I remember coming back from Hyde Park and feeling really scared and asking myself, What did I just do? Then I thought, well, maybe it's not as hard as it seems on television. Wrong! But I think I had to tell myself that because I was so scared that I was actually going to get on the show. It's been a long journey from that first phone call to the finale, but one that I really have appreciated.
ESSENCE.COM: How has your husband and son handled things while you were away?
HALL: It's been hard but they have taken it all in stride. They have been very supportive, especially since they know this has been a passion of mine and I've worked so hard for it. Not to mention my mom is over the moon. She told me that the lady who took her reservations to come to D.C. watches "Top Chef." I'm like, Mom, how do you know that? It's so funny. She's so proud.
ESSENCE.COM: So did you inherit your culinary skills from her?
HALL: No, I did not. [Laughs.] Sorry, Mom. My grandmother and my father were the ones. My mom really just eats for survival.
ESSENCE.COM: How would you describe your cooking?
HALL: I think I've evolved professionally. I just became more confident and found my voice and it enabled me to tweak the skills I already had. I came in cooking comfort food, not necessarily soul food, but food that starts from the heart. I think of my food as simple but complex—there are a lot of steps to making a great sauce. The thing is, can you make something simple and memorable and that's what I always strive to do.
ESSENCE.COM: What are your plans if you win?
HALL: To open my own kitchen, where I would do demos and have a chef's table and a catering kitchen in the back. Also, I would include a retail plan for my "Sweet and Savory" cookies. If I win or not, either way I'll continue to be me, work really hard and share my love with people through my food.
See if Carla takes it all on the season finale of "Top Chef" on Bravo, Wednesdays at 10:00pm.
Plus, check out a few of her personal recipes: