The chef and TV personality honors her grandmother by cooking from the heart
Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, chef, author and television personality Carla Hall spent every Sunday after church at her granny’s house, gathered with family around a table filled with biscuits, greens, pork chops and macaroni and cheese.
Hall’s granny, Freddie Mai Price Glover, was the matriarch of her family, providing food and a centering presence to Hall and her sister, Kim, as well as Hall’s two cousins, Brenda and Bonita.
“All four of us girls, we had to share her,” says Hall. “It was a very special relationship. We would be at her house every holiday and for weeks at a time in the summer. We would travel with her.”
Freddie was the wife of a doctor, and took that role seriously — participating in social organizations and other community activities. But she also maintained her own identity, working as a hairstylist, a dietician and in real estate. She was proud of her appearance, especially her nose, and would turn her head to the right for pictures, making sure the camera captured her profile.
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Granny had a larger-than-life personality, but the thing that Hall remembers most vividly about her is her food — always prepared with love.
“She was an amazing cook,” says Hall. “She made these smothered pork chops and they cooked all day. So by the time we got to her house, they were fork-tender and just delicious.”
Ironically, it was changes to Granny’s cooking that first signaled something was seriously wrong with her memory.
“We all loved her macaroni and cheese so much that she served it every Sunday. There was one point when she served us macaroni noodles in milk. There was no cheese, it wasn’t baked,” Hall says. “We realized she was losing her memory, and [soon after] found out she had Alzheimer’s.”
Granny’s fierce independence kept her at home as the disease progressed. She received in-home care from professionals as well as Hall’s mom, a retired nurse. Granny kept cooking — providing meals to Hall’s mom daily — until she moved into an assisted living community. This transition was jarring for the entire family.
“Granny’s house was the place that we all came. It was the place where we had Christmas, Thanksgiving and family reunions. After her move, we no longer had her as a matriarch to bring the family together,” Hall says.
As Granny continued to slip away, Hall and her family kept her close by playing her favorite music — Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole — that she used to listen to on the hi-fi stereo, dancing around the kitchen. They also found comfort and connection through physical touch.
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“Toward the end of her life, she didn’t remember us at all. But for me, touching her hands was powerful,” Hall says. “Her fingers were like spatulas and she would get in the bowl and get all the cake batter out because her fingers were so flat. If I close my eyes, I can feel her hands right now.”
Today, Hall is known for recipes prepared with heart and soul — undoubtedly, her grandmother’s influence. But she didn’t spend time in the kitchen while she was growing up.
“I did not cook,” says Hall. “I just loved to eat. When I was a kid, I would get a bag of oranges and eat the whole bag. If I loved something, I would just keep eating it.”
It wasn’t until after college, when Hall was working as a model in Paris and sleeping on her friends’ couches, that she came to appreciate her granny’s culinary abilities. As a way to thank her friends for their hospitality, she started cooking for them — and loved it.
Hall changed paths in life and went on to culinary school, becoming a professional chef. She later appeared on Bravo’s reality competition “Top Chef.”
As Hall honed her cooking skills, she continually tried to recreate her grandmother’s dishes, but realized she didn’t know how they were made. “I was retroactively sleuthing these recipes I had eaten growing up, and that was really hard, but it was also something that kept me really close to my grandmother,” Hall says.
She remembers one occasion when her career provided her family with an incredible gift. While filming a show with the Southern chef Paula Deen, Hall helped to prepare a sweet lemonade iced tea. She took one sip and was instantly transported back to her grandmother’s kitchen.
“It was my grandmother’s ice tea. No one can make Granny’s tea! And I was watching Paula make it, and she put a splash of almond extract in. Nobody knew it, but that was the signature ingredient. And I looked at Paula and said, ‘You’re giving me such a gift,’” Hall says.
Hall’s latest project, a travelogue airing on Discovery+ in September, is reminiscent of her personal journey with her grandmother’s recipes. The show focuses on a modern dish, and traces its evolution by visiting cities tied to its cultural origins.
“The recipe alone, without the story, without the culture, you are dissing every single person who had a hand in this dish. It’s not really about a recipe — a recipe is just intellectual. That’s why I cook with all of my senses. You have to feel the food. And I think it was the biggest gift that my grandmother could give me.”
Granny’s Slow-Cooked Sunday Smothered Pork Chops
“Smothered pork chops are a time-honored tradition in the South. A lot of versions call for cooking the chops and making the sauce with lard or butter or both, but my Granny always did this dish with oil. Decades before everyone became more aware of health and nutrition, Granny was at the forefront.” — Carla Hall
4 bone-in pork loin chops (each 1 1/2 inches thick)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup canola or other neutral oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 cup chicken stock or unsalted chicken broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Rinse the pork chops and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the chops, then dredge in flour to lightly coat. Reserve the remaining flour.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add two of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chops.
Add the onions and garlic to the fat in the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and add the reserved flour. Cook, stirring, until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the stock, water, Worcestershire, vinegar, mustard, molasses and allspice. Add to the pan and stir until well incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Return the pork chops and their accumulated juices to the pan.
Cover and simmer until the chops are very tender, about 45 minutes, turning the chops halfway through cooking. Serve hot.
Excerpted from “Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You,” published by Atria Books.