The Peninsula is turning out to be quite a breeding ground for successful reality show contestants.
While a Belmont woman advances on The Bachelor, another Peninsula resident is making her name on a brand-new competitive cooking show on ABC, called "The Taste" - Redwood City's own Mia Hall.
Similar to "The Voice," in which successful rock stars like Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera judge singers without getting to see their faces, The Taste pits talented home hobby chefs against professional chefs. They each create a delicious plate of food, and judges only get one blind taste to judge it, without seeing the plate or who the chef behind it is.
The four celebrity chefs who serve as the show's judges and mentors are Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey.
Who is Mia Hall?
A graduate of Harvard University, Hall worked for some time at a Boston firm as a management consultant.
However, her heart was loyal to the hobby that took up much of her personal time, after clocking out for the day - cooking.
"Management consulting didn't really suit me," Hall said. "What I really wanted was to get into food."
Hall said she grew up in the kitchen, baking up a storm since the young age of 8.
As time went on, her cookbook collection grew, and she learned to experiment and create her own bold and innovative flavors - without spending a single day in any sort of culinary school or formal training.
After leaving her job in management consulting, Hall and her then-fiancé moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Hall decided to pursue her love of cooking full-time.
Hall and her new husband bought a house in Redwood City, and she landed a job at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, where she worked for some time, and then was selected to help with a new food-based startup called Kitchit.
Hall described Kitchit as an online community where people can get hooked up with different private chefs to cook for them in the home or for special events. Hall was hired to manage the team of chefs and be a liason between them and the clients.
When 'The Taste' came calling
One day, Hall got a call from "The Taste."
Hall said, one of the show's casting directors had heard of her because of how involved she is in the Bay Area chef scene, particularly since her work with Kitchit. The producer wanted to know if she knew of any chefs that would be a good fit for the show and might want to audition.
Naturally, Hall recommended herself.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and Hall was auditioning for the show in San Francisco - and she was selected to be one of the contestants.
Hall was flown down to Los Angeles by ABC to film the show.
Once the show begins, each chef creates a special dish for the judges, and if the judges like it, they can pick its creator to be on their "team." Each of the four judge gets to pick four team members, and 16 advance in the competition.
Hall wowed the judges with her dish.
“I prepared Indian-spiced rack of lamb, served with roasted cauliflower, freekeh - which is a green, fire-roasted wheat, kind of like smoky bulgar - and mint cilantro chutney," Hall described.
Her dish did the trick, because Bourdain picked her for his team, meaning Hall is advancing in the show.
Hall said she appreciates how "The Taste" keeps it all about the food.
"It’s literally just one spoonful [the judges] get to taste - there’s no real presentation involved, they don’t get to see who cooked it, they just taste it and see if they like it," she said. "So, it’s really more about the flavor of the food than anything else."
As for Hall's favorite types of cuisine to cook, she says her true loves are ethnic cuisines like Indian, Mexican, Southeast Asian, and anything Mediterranean.
"I have very eclectic tastes," she said. "And I really love the California ethos around food; it's one of the reasons I moved here from the east coast."
Growing up, Hall said her biggest influences were Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jacque Pepin. She said, her parents would often find her glued to PBS, watching cooking shows on the weekends.
Eventually, she started reading a lot of books about cooking, and even started her own food blog for a while in college.
"I loved having people over for dinner and cooking for them. I would really get into it and do all that I could," she said.
'The Taste's' ultimate prize - and what she would do with it
When Hall isn't busy cooking up a storm for her friends and her husband, who works for a consulting firm in Menlo Park, Hall enjoys teaching yoga. She teaches for two studios - one in San Francisco, and Be Yoga, with locations in both Palo Alto and right here in downtown Redwood City.
The Taste offers a $100,000 cash prize and a new car to the final winner of the show.
So, what would Hall do with her prize? She said, it would definitely serve as an investment in her food-based future. She said, she has been brainstorming some sort of food-related business she might want to start, such as possibly a wellness business that combines her love of cooking with her love of yoga.
She added, she has high hopes, particularly as she has noticed how much good food is really appreciated on the Peninsula.
"Being in the Bay Area has really intensified my passion – it’s so easy to get incredible ingredients here, and there’s a real culture around appreciating good food here, so much more so than on the east coast, I would say," she said.
See Mia Hall (formerly Mia Morgenstern) on ABC's 'The Taste,' Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.
Are you a fan of The Taste? Let us know what you think of the show in the comments below.
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