Chef Carla Hall @ Santana Row

Chef Carla Hall @ Santana RowMy friend and I were at Santana Row last Saturday evening when we walked into Sur La Table to pick up some cooking utensils, saw a display announcing that Chef Carla Hall, current co-host of the “The Chew” and former competitor in “Top Chef” (Season Five), was having a book signing. We both thought that this event was for later this month. A sales clerk informed us that the cooking demo was taking place outside, the book signing was inside, and that Carla was running late from being in Southern California that morning.

Since we had nothing better to do, my friend bought the book, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World,” and we stuck around for a few hours.

I’ve been a big fan of “Top Chef” since Season One premiered in 2006 because it was new, different and fun for a Reality TV series. Alas, Season One was special because the chefs were new to competitive cooking, didn’t know what to expect, and put the focus on their cooking. Season Two was horrible as the focus was on the hijinks of the contestants and cooking took a backseat. Every season thereafter was on a downhill slide where I stopped caring about the show over the years. I didn’t watch Season Ten when it aired last year.

Season Five may have been the exception to this sad state of affairs. Carla was the runner-up for that season. Out of the many winners and losers over the years, she has maintained a higher visibility than most by trading in her catering business to become a celebrity chef. Before my car died from a blown head gasket last year, I used to hear her on KGO Radio’s “Cooking With Ryan Scott” from time to time. Since I generally don’t watch TV, I’m not familiar with her work on ABC’s “The Chew.”

Carla arrived an hour late, strolling out of the store and on to the mini stage, where a cooking table with an overhead mirror and prepped food was waiting for her. Caribbean-style music blared out from the restaurant behind her. With her headset on, she introduced herself as she prepared an Italian dish called caponata with eggplants, explained the international flavor of her new cookbook, and took questions about being on “The Chew” and “Top Chef.” She was quite funny and the caponata was quite tasty.

After the cooking demo, Carla went inside the store and my friend lined up outside for the book signing. I spent my time roaming around the store, looking at items and being thankful that I’m unemployed, broke and immune from buying any kitchen gadgets. One item in particular I was looking for was a grill press. Not the BBQ kind, but the ones used in commercial kitchens. I’m using a heavy pot lid to press my hamburger patties on the stove. Alas, the store only had the BBQ kind. My friend, meanwhile, got his book signed and had a picture taken with Carla.