The vivacious media star dishes on her lifelong love of soul food and some of her favorite places to eat it, with stops in Dallas, New Orleans, L.A. and her hometown stomping grounds, Nashville.
A bit of history
Now in its 22nd year, National Soul Food Month was cooked up by journalist Charla Draper as a way to honor the heritage and history of foods and foodways of African Americans and peoples from the African diaspora. “The culinary contributions of this group have had an indelible impact on the American menu,” the founder said.
On the official website, Draper shares her vision in heartwarming style: “My appetite and interest in food was nurtured in a family of great cooks— both of my grandmothers had skills. Our house was always filled with the aroma of good cooking–soul foods, and scratch baking of the buttery, moist melt-in-your-mouth pound cake created by Mom’s mother, Gonga. Dad’s mother — Big Mama honed her skills in Shreveport, Louisiana and her menus included seafood gumbo, braised rabbit, and pear preserves. All of these foods were essential in creating our family food legacy.”
The monthlong celebration includes various virtual events including a look at how the iconic test kitchen used by pioneering food editors at Ebony magazine was given new life. That “From Demolition to Rebirth—The Ebony Test Kitchen Journey” discussion on June 7 will feature a discussion led by the former advocacy director of Landmarks Illinois, Lisa DiChiera, who will talk about the efforts to preserve and restore the groundbreaking test kitchen.
Carla Hall will make an appearance on June 22, sharing her sweet and savory work in the soul food space, which includes penning a best-selling cookbook with Genevieve Ko.
The introduction to that 2018 collection of mouthwatering recipes begins with a heartfelt declaration:
“I’ve been eating soul food all my life and cooking it my whole career. I don’t just know soul food. Soul food is in my soul.”
She goes on to say: “The roots of our cooking are in West Africa. And from there, the American South, from the slave ports along the eastern coast to the southern border. We relied on seasonal vegetables, beans, and grains, with meat on rare occasions. Let’s be clear: those were horrible times of suffering under the most unspeakable evil. I don’t want to romanticize any of it. Not even the food. Remember, we didn’t get to choose what we ate. But we made the most delicious dishes from what little we had. And what we cooked for the slave owners effectively became what we know as ‘American’ food today.”
Happy Soul Food month! How will you be celebrating?
As someone who considers cooking and eating Soul Food a fundamental part of my identity, I can’t wait to celebrate with others! In fact, my passion sharing this cuisine led me to write my latest cookbook “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration.” What’s great about Soul Food is that it offers a diverse range of dishes. Whether you’re in the mood for a light salad or a heavier meal, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Personally, I’m looking forward to sharing my culture with the world all month long.
What’s your go-to soul food order when visiting restaurants?
Deciding on just three sides is a tough call for me, especially since the “meat & three” plate in the South is already considered a marvel featuring a protein and three sides. Instead, I go for four sides – my usual picks are mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and either dressing or green beans. It’s always a dilemma picking just the right ones! And when it comes to bread, cornbread beats a roll any day. Lastly, dessert always ends on a high note with either sweet potato pie or peach cobbler.
Where are some of your favorite soul food restaurants?
- In Nashville, Swett’s is where my family goes for dinner and it holds a special place in my heart. It was the last dinner we enjoyed with my Dad before he passed away a few years ago.
- If you’re in New Orleans, be sure to stop by Dookie Chase’s and order their famous gumbo. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
- If you’re in Los Angeles, head to Alta on Adams and try the greens and chow chow pickle – you can taste the Mississippi, Alabama, or Tennessee influence in every bite!
- Finally, if you’re in Dallas, Roots Southern Table is a must-visit spot. Chef Tiffany Derry serves up traditional soul food dishes as well as innovative takes on classic favorites. I’ve been known to take that trip across country just to meet girlfriends, go to a concert and have a memorable meal at Roots. I can’t wait to go back!
What are you up to these days? (We see you’ve launched a cookware line… that’s exciting, any details you’d like to share?)
I’m so excited about it,too. My line is called Sweet Heritage by Carla Hall, and it’s a modern twist on classic designs available on QVC! My signature okra flower motif, bright colors and stylish prints will bring a smile to your face. I’ve also added several food items – lemon bars, a variety of cakes, baked Hot Chicken and other items. I’ll continue to add to the line. September is shaping up nicely.