Chef Carla Hall Wants You To Make The Most Of Your Leftovers

The Top Chef alum and TV personality talks about how to embrace cooking and her upcoming children’s book

As you prepare to spend your Fourth of July assembling and eating a spread complete with everything from corn muffins to macaroni salad, the concept of "leftovers" might not compute. But there are bound to be some untouched sides, apps, and even desserts that deserve better than withering in the hot afternoon sun—that's where Chef Carla Hall comes in.

Hall is partnering with Tostitos on Next Day Delicious, a summer campaign that's all about creatively reusing your July 4 leftovers so that nothing goes to waste. It's a genuinely fun concept helmed by everyone's favorite genuinely fun food personality; Hall will be sharing her leftover creations on social media (and on the Tostitos website) as short-form recipe videos starting July 5 so that everyone can get inspired to use what they have on hand.

The Takeout had the opportunity to ask Hall some questions about this latest campaign, her upcoming children's book, and how to embrace cooking when you're too burnt out—or having too much fun—to want to spend time in the kitchen.

The Takeout: What are some of your favorite ways to repurpose leftovers? Is there a surprising example of how you use up bits of food so they don't go to waste?

Carla Hall: One of the surprising things that you can do is to take habanero bite-sized chips and turn them into a Spicy Tostitos S'mores. So when you think of Mexican hot chocolate—you take that Habanero chip, you put chocolate on it, and then you put a marshmallow either in the oven under the broiler or you can pop it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. That marshmallow can either be a fresh marshmallow or a toasted, leftover marshmallow, and then you put a little spice on it—cayenne and sugar—and then you top it with another chip. Give that little sandwich a squeeze, bite it, and you are going to be feeling all the heat, the sweet, the chocolate, the bitter. It is going to be a party in your mouth. It's exciting because it's also really spicy—you're like, "What?!"

The other thing I love: hot dogs. We actually have hot dog night at my house. When I go to the fair in the summertime, I love corn dogs. So what better way to repurpose your grilled hot dogs that you've had on the Fourth [than to make] a Tostitos-crusted corn dog? You sort of dunk your hot dog into the batter that has mustard powder in it—that's where that mustard comes in with that tang. Then you're going to roll it in crushed-up Tostitos, which is perfect because they're left over at the bottom of the bag. Roll it from there, fry it, it gets nice and crispy, you're doubling down on the crunch, you're doubling down on the corn. I like to drizzle mayonnaise, ketchup, and then cilantro, because when you think of salsa and Mexican corn, it is delicious and it's all about repurposing. But also combining something that you know and something that you probably already have, which is the Tostitos.

TO: Since the kitchen is so tied to your work, there are probably times when cooking can feel stressful or unwelcome. What's your best way of coping with that?

CH: There are times when I don't like to cook. I mean, last year everyone was making banana bread and sourdough. I just tested out an air fryer—there is nothing more fun to me than to take something very simple like chips and dip and throwing it in the air fryer and having something that is fast, easy and delicious. So that's one of the things—just creating. I love creating fast and easy dishes. I'm like, "Oh, that was so easy. I'll do that again."

If [a recipe] is long and drawn out, sometimes I may not do that unless there is a special holiday, because I do cook on the holidays. But I'll also invest in that time when I'm cooking for the holidays by knowing that the next day I don't have to cook, and I can use those same things I cooked on one night the next day.

TO: For those who have never really cooked, or who hate cooking, is there a dish or recipe that you recommend that might spark their love of making food? 

CH: I think you have to make food fun. When you take something that somebody loves, even if you're starting from leftovers and adding something to it, you're sort of reimagining a dish—sometimes that helps. My sister doesn't like to cook, but if I gave my sister some hamburgers and told her how to jazz it up, she would be up for that because she doesn't have to start from scratch.

If you like salad, add in bips and bobs to your salad. Have a cutting board and little piles of vegetables or different things so that people can put whatever they want in their salad, or make a quick salad dressing in a jar. Super simple, but also you feel like you can't mess it up.

I think the reason people don't like to cook is they don't want to spend time on something that they don't like, or on something that they may not want to eat in the end. So if you make it easy and make it something they can't mess up, it's going to be great.

TO: Your first children's book, Carla and the Christmas Cornbread, is coming out this fall. What are you hoping kids will gain from the experience of reading it?

CH: I am so excited about my children's book coming out. I am hoping that children will want to cook with their parent or grandparent, to have that time together. I'm hoping that they will be curious, that they will want to make the recipes, and think about other things they'll want to do with their grandparent or parent. I talk about my Christmas traditions and going over to my grandparents' house, so I'm hoping that they will think about what their traditions are, that it will be about family time.