Carla Hall had quite the culinary journey. The 59-year-old Food Network star started out as an accountant and then worked as an international model before becoming a professional chef. “I didn’t know what I was looking for, and it turned out to be food,” says the Holiday Baking Championship judge, who competed on Top Chef in 2008 and finished fifth on Top Chef: All-Stars in 2010. “Food has become an unexpected part of my life and my success.” Here, the Nashville native, who currently hosts Chasing Flavor on Max, talks to In Touch’s Fortune Benatar about her unconventional career path, her Food Network family and the motto she lives by.

How did you get into cooking?
CH: I always loved food, but I was the diner not the maker. When I was a model, I would make recipes for the people who allowed me to sleep on their couch. Then I created a lunch delivery service as a fluke. I did that for five years before going to culinary school.

And then you did Top Chef…
CH: When you do a competition show, saying yes is the hard thing. No matter how long you’re there, when you leave you feel like you can do anything because you just did something hard and life changing.

Who is your biggest inspiration?
CH: My grandmothers. Culinary school gave me the ability to reverse-engineer some of my favorite dishes [from them].

What’s the best part about being in the Food Network family?
CH: I love watching people grow and surprise themselves on the baking shows. I know what that feels like. And when I see Nancy [Fuller] and Duff [Goldman] and Jesse [Palmer] for Holiday Baking Championship — we’ve all come to treasure that time together.

Who would you like to work with more?
CH: I love working with Kalen Allen on Gingerbread Showdown, and I absolutely love Damaris Phillips. We had so much fun on Summer Baking Championship. Talk about delicious. We will exhaust everybody else, but our energies match.

What’s your best tip for new cooks?
CH: To be themselves and figure out who they are through food. Reconnect with your culture and tell those stories. We want great food, but great food comes from a person who digs deep to find it within themselves.

If you could cook for any celebrity, who would it be?
CH: Carol Burnett. I know she loves enchiladas and raspberry Snapple.

What motto do you live by?
CH: My grandmother said, “It’s your job to be happy, not to be rich.” And in the morning I do a prayer: “God goes before me, making smooth, easy and clears my way. No person, place or thing, or outside condition can affect me. I am power, I am worthy, I am free, I am creative, I am unique.”

What’s next for you?
CH: I turn 60 this year, and I’m super excited about that. I would love to do a live one-woman show. It would be the story of my life with some food talk.

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