Celebrity chefs and entrepreneurs Cat Cora and Carla Hall took the BlogHer17 main stage to discuss career, personal triumphs and setbacks, and advice for budding entrepreneurs—and there couldn’t be a more fitting duo to spark the conversation. Cora was the first woman to be named Iron Chef American and has opened 18 restaurants throughout her career. Hall rose to prominence as a contestant on Top Chef and has since authored two books and become a co-host on ABC’s The Chew. Ahead, five more things we learned about the two at Blogher17.
They’re proud of their Southern roots
Hall was born and raised in Nashville and Cora grew up in Jackson, Miss. Although Cora loves the South, she knew she needed to leave to find the opportunities she was looking for. “I grew up with two parents who were beautifully liberal and educated and wanted me to see the world,” Cora said. “That’s what led me on my journey to first going to college and getting a degree and then to getting into the culinary world and landing in France.”
They’re constantly inspired by advice they got from their mothers
“My grandmother and mom told me ‘It is your job to be happy, not to be rich,’ Hall shared, “so I was constantly looking for that joy.” Cora’s mom also had some common (but nonetheless sound) advice for her daughter. “My mom said don’t ever depend on a man,” Cora said. “That was back before she knew I was gay! So I’ll only be depending on myself.”
Hall had two entirely different careers before becoming a chef
“I was an accountant and thank the baby Jesus I don’t do that anymore,” Hall said. She discovered her passion for cooking while in yet another field—modeling in Paris.
Learning to accept vulnerability has helped them grow
“My biggest fear was the fear of success,” Hall said. “I was afraid of success because I was afraid of failure.” Once she got past that, she was able to embrace setbacks (like when he had to close her restaurant last year) and look at them as learning experiences. Cora found herself wanting to leave the TV and culinary industries at one point, due in part to the public scrutiny surrounding her divorce. “There are hard times, but those are the times that make you,” she said.
Despite their success, they continue to face sexism
“When you’re doing an event of dinner with all men, they always want to give you the dessert,” Cora shared, noting that there’s still an assumption that female chefs are only skilled at baking. “I say ‘I’m not doing the dessert—I’m doing the entree.’ That’s my philosophy, I’m going always do the entree. Daniel Boulud can do the dessert.”
Hall recalled being met with skepticism when she decided to stop dying her hair. “Why is it that women look ‘old’ with grey hair and men look ‘distinguished?'” she asked. A male producer on The Chew doubted that she’d be able to embrace her gray hair. Two years later, she’s still proving him wrong.