'Top Chef' Q& A - Carla Hall on Peas, Hair and Finding Her Sea Legs

The final four "Top Chef: New York" competitors, Hosea Rosenberg, Carla Hall, Fabio Viviani and Stefan Richter, square off tonight on Bravo.
The final four "Top Chef: New York" competitors, Hosea Rosenberg, Carla Hall, Fabio Viviani and Stefan Richter, square off tonight on Bravo. (By Barbara Nitke -- Bravo)
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First there were 17, now there are four: Hometown fans were IM'ing "Go Carla!" last Wednesday as they watched Carla Hall make it to the semifinals on Bravo's "Top Chef: New York."

In Episode 12's elimination challenge, dubbed "The Last Supper," Hall and four fellow Season 5 contestants produced special-request meals for culinary superstars and notables Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pépin, Wylie Dufresne, Marcus Samuelsson and Susan Ungaro (head of the James Beard Foundation).

Hall drew Pépin's name and cooked Squab With Lemon-Thyme Butter Sauce Demi-Glace and Butter-Tarragon Peas. He liked the bird and loved the vegetable, calling the peas "scrumptious." Hall, who won the evening's quick-fire challenge, didn't win the elimination round, but she came in just behind competitor Fabio Viviani.

Viewers will see her tonight with a sleek new hairdo as the cooking competition moves to New Orleans. She talked to Bonnie S. Benwick last week. Excerpts:

Should you have done more with the peas, as co-host Tom Colicchio mentioned? How did you weigh the idea of pure/simple versus "your own twist"?

I was happy with what I did. I wanted the peas separate. Jacques said he wanted peas and squab, not peas with squab.

I'm a pea person. I would want to eat my peas with other peas.

Will we be seeing any photos of you from your modeling days?

Yeah, you might.

Is it a must for cheftestants to change their hair between the first round and finale? Previews showed that yours is long and straight and Fabio's got a faux-hawk.

Nah. It just so happens that when I go for cut and color, I get it straightened.

How hard has it been to read stuff about your performance thus far that wasn't so complimentary?

My husband would get upset when he read the blogs, but I still don't read them. I wouldn't necessarily disagree with some of them. I knew I could cook better.

I just needed to find my sea legs. It's like being on "Jeopardy!" and suddenly all the categories are the ones you know. Getting feedback from Eric Ripert and Jacques Pépin was so rewarding.

Do you think Jamie went home because she criticized Ripert's food [in Episode 11]?

I'd have to say no. Tom [Colicchio] said he respected her for saying that wasn't her style of food. Her dish really was not edible. The celery was so salty you could not eat it.

Do you think any judges' decisions have been way off base, such as sending Ariane home?

She is an amazing chef; there have been a lot of good chefs that got sent home. It was unfortunate, but she seems to be doing well. Now her restaurant's booked three months out.

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