Carla Hall didn't always know how to cook, but she always loved to eat. "I loved to eat, and I didn't start cooking until I was around 25," she told POPSUGAR. Even so, she learned a lot from her Southern grandmother growing up, and she showcased some of that knowledge at a live cooking demo at this year's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. In under 45 minutes, Carla made Nashville-style hot chicken — from her Brooklyn restaurant Carla's Southern Kitchen — cornbread, chow chow (pickled relish), and biscuits from scratch, all while engaging the audience with her infectious personality. I caught up with the chef and The Chew cohost afterward, smells of her cayenne-pepper-packed fried chicken still lingering in my nose, to talk more about fried chicken and the best tips she still remembers from her grandmother.
1. Don't forget that Southern food can be light.
"The tip I learned from my grandmother — because my grandfather had hypertension — is that our food was really fresh and delicious and not overly fatty like people think of Southern food. Even frying chicken: if your oil is at the right temperature, the chicken is not going to absorb all the oil. And if your oil is fresh, it's not going to absorb all that oil. So it's really [about] how you extract flavor and make your food really delicious. And I got that from my grandmother. I didn't realize it was lighter until I was eating it in other places."
2. Always make the cornbread last.
While Carla demonstrated the best way to make cast-iron cornbread (hint: no sugar. "In the South, sugar belongs in the dessert, not the cornbread," she said), she also mentioned the one thing her grandmother would always do during Sunday suppers. "When your guests show up, that's when the cornbread goes in the oven," Carla said, explaining that her grandmother would always have everything else just about ready before baking the cornbread last, even if it meant making the kids wait a little longer. Allowing a pat of butter to melt on everyone's slice of warm, fresh-from-the-oven cornbread is key, and you don't want to serve it cold.
3. Edible gifts are the best gifts.
Carla recently shared a drool-inducing video of a slice of pound cake sizzling in butter that she whipped up as a late-night snack, and she told me that pound cake is something her grandmother always used to make and use as a gift. "She used to send us pound cake to college," Carla said, smiling. It's a reminder that when it comes to food (especially Southern and soul food), it tastes best when it was made with love. And what's better than a gift you can eat?
Travel and expenses for the author were provided by the Colorado Tourism Board for the purpose of writing this story.