Behind Every Food Is A Story Waiting To Be Found

Carla Hall is a celebrated chef, Food Network personality, and award-winning author who also happens to genuinely enjoy getting to know people. Instead of asking how a person was doing, Chef Hall made a conscious effort to come up with a more meaningful question. Upon meeting someone new, she would ask them to tell her about their favorite dish. Immediately, their eyes would light up as they shared a detailed account of their favorite food and the memories it brought back to life. It was this vested interest in hearing the stories of strangers that led to the creation of Chasing Flavor, a six-episode Max original television series that premiered on February 1, 2024. As the host and executive producer, Chef Hall travels across the world literally chasing down the origins and history of America’s most beloved foods. We’re talking ice cream, hot chicken, tacos, and more!

“I think my love of people is part of my superpower, alongside my fascination with culture and its impact on the culinary world,” said Chef Hall. “It’s always been important for me to get a true insight into something that is close and meaningful to a person who lives somewhere else versus my version of their culture and the way in which I’ve experienced it.”

Chef Hall’s curiosity and commitment to seeing the bigger picture comes through in each episode as the viewer is given a more complete perspective of classic dishes, revealing the history one layer at a time. Going beyond recipes, Chasing Flavor shares personal narratives that were always meant to be shared but got lost along the way. This is due in large part to the fact that when cultures move, they are often forced to adapt their particular way of doing things — or in this case, cooking things — based on what’s available. When it comes to recipes that have been passed on for generations, adaptations are inevitable but that doesn’t mean the original essence of the food is lost. The transformations happen organically and can still pay homage to its original version. It truly is a butterfly effect. The challenge lies in making a concerted effort not to forget or lose sight of the importance of taking the time to uncover that origin story. 

“There may be a dish that’s part of your culture that goes back hundreds or thousands of years,” said Chef Hall. “You only know a piece of that history, yet you still hold onto that part of the story and your connection to it. I’m asking people to recognize that this food is a living, breathing thing that can be changed but also honored.”

Chef Hall’s travels for Chasing Flavor took her on a journey with unexpected discoveries, emotional connections, and personal revelations. In one of the six episodes, she meets the Black family that served the first hot chicken in Nashville (Hall’s native hometown). André Prince Jeffries, who started running the Prince Hot Chicken business in 1980, gave an intimate look at how she and her family are holding onto their recipe and legacy. This is just one example of how the show represents so many voices while reinforcing the way in which dishes and recipes travel. Chasing Flavor is about ensuring originators get credit for their culinary creations and at the same time, helping people to see that food is fluid. There is an undeniable cultural connection to a recipe, but it also comes from countless other influences.  

Al Pastor was another story that had a lasting impact on Chef Hall. She didn’t grow up eating authentic tacos, which allowed Chef Hall to remain open minded as the story unfolded. This led to a surprising connection between food and language. As soon as you hear the word “taco” people have an idea of what they’re going to get — some type of protein in a shell type carrier with salsa. This was Chef Hall’s aha moment, as she clearly understood how language plays a pivotal part in how food travels. 

“When it comes to soul food and the lack of our language through the African diaspora, a lot of the contributions from the enslaved people to American food gets lost and muddied,” said Chef Hall. “As a result, soul food has assimilated into the American culinary culture with an unclear picture of the roots from which it came.”

This makes it all the more important to uncover the missing links to these origin stories. The process for finding the right recipes and people to feature involved a lot of time and digging into the details. Speaking to a number of different individuals to ensure the details aligned was a pivotal part of the equation. The integrity of information received and portrayed in Chasing Flavor remained a top priority from day one. Filming began at the end of 2021 and finished in January of 2022. Due in part to Covid regulations and the research itself, it was a process that took a lot of patience, passion and persistence.

One dish Chef Hall knew she wanted to feature was chicken pot pie, which has played a significant role in her personal food journey. Following the recipe in a Julia Child’s cookbook, it was one of the first culinary creations she made that felt chef-like. When she appeared on Top Chef, her winning dish was none other than chicken pot pie. It was also a recipe included in Chef Hall’s first cookbook, Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You. So it only makes sense that it would make an appearance in one of the episodes in Chef Hall’s debut docuseries — and it did not disappoint. From England to Rome to Jamaica, Chef Hall uncovered so many unexpected twists and turns in the chicken pot pie narrative. 

Cooking With Curiosity

Hall didn’t begin her career as a chef. In fact, she was modeling in Paris when her interest in the culinary arts was piqued. She found herself attending many Sunday brunches where Americans and expats were cooking delicious dishes and telling the stories that went along with them. It got Hall thinking about what her stories would be. So she began cooking for the people she was living with as an act of gratitude and later, started a lunch delivery service that lasted for five years. Before attending culinary school, Chef Hall was self-taught, relying on cookbook magazines near the checkout in grocery stores and her own determination to refine her food-making skills while getting a better understanding of her connection to certain recipes. 

“I didn’t start cooking until I was in my mid-twenties and many of my food memories revolved around the dishes my mother made, which were not very sophisticated — like Hamburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni,” said Chef Hall. “However, when I accepted soul food as the connection to my culture and began using the techniques I obtained from culinary school to recreate recipes from my childhood, I was able to feel closer to both my grandmothers (who were amazing cooks), even though they had both passed.”

Chef Hall has always been fascinated with the way food plays such a pivotal role in people’s lives. Food is a multi-faceted experience that involves taste, smell, sight, sound. It’s about family (biological or chosen) and the faces that surround you at the table. It’s present while on vacation or at a work conference. It’s a part of celebrations and grievances. Throughout the course of our lifetime, there are always instances where food has the ability to pull you in or take you back to a particular moment. Filming Chasing Flavor allowed Chef Hall to delve deeper into the diverse influences certain foods have had on American cuisine.

Chef Hall feels so blessed to have worked with the talented film crew and production team and to have met the amazing people who were willing to share their stories. Everyone involved knew Chasing Flavor was something incredibly special and after waiting a very long two years, people are finally getting to see it! As the viewers come with Chef Hall, uncovering the many facets behind each featured food, the hope is that they become curious about other dishes they enjoy or make themselves. On a practical level, people who watch the show are likely to be inspired to find restaurants and food experiences within their community that offer the dishes featured in each episode. And taking things one step further by getting to know the people serving them and their stories.

“In creating Chasing Flavor, I envision people will have a greater desire to discover the history behind the foods they eat,” said Chef Hall. “To find ways they can honor the stories of their culture or traditions while realizing that food is a living, breathing thing that is constantly transforming.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that we are all a part of a narrative that is carried on from generation to generation through food. And like the title, Chasing Flavor, we act as a present participle, continuously impacting the way in which we experience the dishes that help to define us.

Sit back, relax and get a taste of the history behind some of your favorite recipes when you watch Chasing Flavor on Max. Click here for episodes.

You can also follow Chef Hall on her website, Food Network and @carlaphall on Instagram.