You can’t judge a book by its cover, but what can you tell about a chef by what is in their refrigerator?
Chefs are intriguing in what they cook, perhaps in how they dress and by what’s in their home refrigerators. Their creations shape food culture and become an indelible part of our experience from their restaurants to our kitchens. They make food delicious and create works of art beyond our wildest dreams. But what happens when the chef hat, jacket and checkered pants come off and they’re at home? Are their home fridges stocked with exotic produce, hard-to-find meat and fish and high-end condiments, similar to what you would find at the restaurant? Or, is it the opposite, filled with just the basics, or perhaps some items they might even be embarrassed to mention?
One of my favorite features in Food Network Magazine is the kitchen “tours” of famous chefs’ kitchens and pantries. In my Chef du Jour columns, where I interview chefs, it is always interesting to find out what local chefs keep in their home fridge. I was thrilled when “Chefs’ Fridges: More than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What they Eat at Home,” by Carrie Solomon and Adrian Moore (2020, Harper Design, $40) was published. In one book, I can satisfy my craving for taking a look into some of the world’s most esteemed chefs’ personal kitchens. In a couple of days, I was able to “travel” to the kitchens of Alice Waters, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, Jose Andres and other esteemed chefs. Having met Carla Hall at a food conference, I chose to feature her chapter here.
Some of you might know of Carla from “The Chew,” where she was co-host, or from when she won over audiences on “Top Chef.” She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” creating recipes from her cookbooks. Hall has been a judge on Netflix’s “Crazy Delicious” as well as “Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart” on The Food Network. The accountant turned runway model turned celebrity chef found her culinary calling as she ate traveling through Europe while modeling.
Each chef’s entry contains an essay that sheds light on his or her personal and culinary background; photographs of the contents of their refrigerators to see what they really eat at home; a Q&A; an informal portrait in their kitchen; and a recipe or two. You’ll feel as if you are having a conversation with a great chef as they stand before an open fridge, deciding what to eat.
Here are some excerpts from Carla Hall’s chapter.
Current hometown: Washington, D.C.
Show that made her: “Top Chef.”
Signature style: Cooking with love — and her Southern-influenced food.
Best known for: Cooking with Strahan and Sara; her co-hosting days on ABC’s “The Chew”; and her cookbooks including “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Every Day and Celebration.”
Something we’d never find in your fridge? “Honestly even if I had canned cranberry sauce in there, if I want it and I’m buying it, it’s OK. I can’t be food-shamed.”
Where do you go food shopping in New York? “Trader Joe’s around the corner, Fairway, the farmers market on Wednesdays at Union Square. One thing I have never done is order my groceries online. Another thing I don’t do here is order delivery. When you are not from that mindset it is strange. I do a little carryout, but I can count the number of times I have done it here. In D.C., I shop at Whole Foods, as it’s close to my house, and a daily farmers market. I like shopping there because I can taste. I can get onesies — just one of something.”
What is next to your refrigerator? “A standing pot rack. I have to do a lot of recipe testing, so I need a variety of pots and pans and I got this pot tree to make it easier. Now when I’m cooking for myself I use them more often, too.”
Any clever uses for leftovers? “For me if I cook a soup, I will eat it every single day until it’s done. I have no problem with leftovers. Sometimes if I make a pureed soup I will later use it for a sauce.”
Any New York City food memories? “The first time that I came to New York, I went to see “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and that changed my world — it was after seeing it that I imagined I wanted to be an actress. After the play, my other grandmother, Thelma, made fried chicken at my uncle’s apartment in Harlem. Because he didn’t have anything in his fridge, she went out and got flour, salt and pepper. It was the best fried chicken I ever had.”
What were your biggest crowd-pleasers during your catering years? “I would say curry chicken salad on croissants and also biscuits with smoked turkey. I still make the same biscuits.”
Guilty pleasure? “Chocolate sauce over ice cream. Although I don’t have any right now.”
You said you really like oatmeal. Do you prefer steel-cut or quick oats? “I don’t like quick oats. I love toasted steel-cut oats. I make the oats with half fruit juice and half water. I also love savory oats with spinach and kefir — yes! There is a store here called OatMeals. I eat a lot of oatmeal and I can talk to people for days about oats.”
What are your favorite things to snack on while you cook? “I usually eat the ends of the vegetables I am cutting. I snack on nuts and grapes, too.”
The headnote says, “I like this dish, inspired by (’That ’70s Show’ actress) Laura Prepon, because everything cooks in a packet (which basically poaches the shrimp in its juices), the pan stays clean, it’s ready in eight minutes, and your place won’t smell like fish. The lemon slices are the secret to not overcooking the shrimp.”
1 vine-ripened tomato
For the shrimp: Cut the tomato in half. Squeeze the juice from one half in a bowl. Reserve the other half for the salad. Add the shrimp and all ingredients through chili flakes to the bowl. Mix well.
Prepare a parchment packet: Cut two 15-inch squares of parchment paper and one of aluminum foil. Lay the parchment paper on top of the aluminum foil and then line it with the lemon slices. Place the shrimp mixture on top of the parchment paper. Fold all the ends together firmly to make a tightly sealed packet.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Place the packet in the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
For the salad: Slice the romaine vertically into four wedges. Divide the wedges among four plates. Stir 1 tablespoon of the feta into the shrimp. Spoon the shrimp over the romaine wedges. Sprinkle with Spanish olives, the remaining feta, minced parsley, and chives. Dice the other tomato half and sprinkle over the wedges. Serves 4.
“Summer Saturdays” noon-4 p.m., New Haven; participating New Haven restaurants will offer two-course prix-fixe lunch menus for $20 (excluding beverage, tax, and gratuity). Reservations are required. Other eateries and cafes, including coffee shops and bakeries, offer 20 percent off an item. Local musicians will perform live at select spots throughout the city. Special parking rates are available. Participating restaurants and other retail shops at www.infonewhaven.com/new-haven-summer-saturdays.
Farm to Flanders, Aug. 23, (pickup noon-4 p.m.), order by Aug. 17. Van Vleck Farm & Nature Sanctuary, 5 Church Hill Road, Woodbury, $75 per person, $20 special children’s picnic meal, 203-263-3711. Support Flanders Nature Center this year by pre-ordering a gourmet picnic meal made by renowned chefs using local, farm fresh ingredients from Connecticut farms. Your multi-course meal will be packaged in a cooler tote you get to keep. Convenient curb-side pickup. Enjoy the picnic on one of the preserves or to enjoy at home. Menu and order at https://bit.ly/2EQJ3pM.
BASTA Trattoria, 1006 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-772-1715, Pasta Trio, menu at https://bit.ly/2WPnmwy, choose three different pastas and three different sauces for $20 per person. Served for lunch (noon- 3 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays for dining indoor or outdoor. www.bastatrattoria.com
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, 271 Crown St. New Haven, 203-777-7700, happy hour from noon to 4 p.m., with $1 sliders, $1 drafts and $2 cans and bottles. These specials are available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). https://bit.ly/2ZW5cek
Shell and Bones, 100 S. Water St., New Haven, 203-787-3466, re-introduces happy hour, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m, offering $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and $1 drafts. Specials available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). www.shellandbones.com
Worth Tasting, culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, Sept. 12, 10:30 a.m., reservations required, 203-415-3519, $68. Enjoy tasty samplings from several of New Haven’s favorites. You won’t be hungry after this tour. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2FjiwMP.
What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.