Kelsey Barnard Clark, Top Chef winner, is determined to grow from this experience


Kelsey Barnard Clark endeared herself to Top Chef fans. This season’s Top Chef winner chatted with me about her Southern roots, favorite dishes and future plans.

A few months ago, Kelsey Barnard Clark may not have been a household name. After becoming this season’s Top Chef winner, the Southern chef and restaurateur has numerous opportunities ahead of her. As shown throughout this season, her Southern roots grounded her and served as her culinary inspiration.

Although Top Chef has been around for 16 seasons, this season was driven by strong female chefs. The women on this season held true to their vision, were a powerhouse in the kitchen and supported each other. Leading the way this season was Kelsey Barnard Clark.

This year’s fan favorite, Kelsey proved that a woman chef who is driven and determined is a definite force in the kitchen. While she understood the hardship of leaving her young son at home, she knew that this experience could speak volumes for other chefs, women and children.

Specifically, Kelsey said, “Being a role model for women and children is super dear to my heart. It’s hard to be a working mom and I know it’s a battle for so many women. I want to be an honest voice for them and also be someone children can look at and go “hey she did it – I can too!””

As seen during the season, Kelsey channeled her vast and varied culinary knowledge into the challenges. Having attended Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, working in Café Boulud, and Dovetail, she understands the value of mentorship. While kitchen mentors are vital, mentors come from all areas of life.

TOP CHEF — “Kentucky Farewell” Episode 1612 — Pictured: (l-r) Graham Elliot, Kelsey Barnard — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Kelsey said, “Having mentors – whether they are your friends, mother, a book, a bible – is crucial in your career. You WILL have set backs. You will fail. You will need an army of people to pick you back up and make you get back on the horse. Lord knows I did.”

That determination served her well throughout the Top Chef competition. While she won several Elimination Challenges, not every dish was a home run. She mentioned that “My worst (dish) was probably my meat challenge shank.” Still, she recovered, moved forward and learned from each dishe. Those characteristics propelled her to the finale.

Throughout this Top Chef season, Kelsey showcased Southern dishes. Each of her dishes had a connection to her roots, her family and her passions. In a way, she was a true ambassador for Southern cuisine.

Many of her dishes seem to make a conscious effort to blend classic culinary techniques with traditional Southern favorites. When asked about the importance of showcasing Southern inspired cuisine, Kelsey responded, “I’d say it is the most important to me. We all have a story to tell and we all come from somewhere. I’m from the South and consider it my duty to showcase that. Plus I love it!”

Looking at Kelsey’s most successful dishes, oysters made her culinary ability shine. She said, “Most of my favorite memories are centered around a table shucking oysters or picking crab. It’s a way of life in the south and a form of entertainment. They are the perfect food, in my opinion – light, refreshing, clean, yet decadent. I just love them.”

That love of oysters and respect for the ingredient was apparent throughout the Top Chef season. Kelsey’s favorite dish and loved by the judges was her second course from the finale. Personally, that course made me wish that my television had taste-o-vision.

TOP CHEF — Episode 1615 — Kelsey’s second course (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)

While fans didn’t get to taste Kelsey’s food on Top Chef, they can visit her restaurant in Dothan, Alabama. KBC focuses on upscale Southern food. The restaurant describes the menu as “just good, wholesome food.” While everything is beautifully plated, the true splendor is the philosophy that the table offers community and belonging. That sentiment should encourage anyone to take a trip to her Alabama restaurant.

Although Dothan might not be a culinary capital, Kelsey said, “Dothan is a gem of a little town. We’ve got a lot of soul, tradition & hospitality here that is generations deep. That’s three good reasons for me to take that detour any day.”

What is next for Kelsey Barnard Clark? So many possibilities await this talented chef. Specifically she said, “I plan to spend a lot of time outside with my family and give them some much needed attention. I also plan on working my a*& off to be sure this time on “Top Chef” doesn’t end with a finale.”

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Expect big things from this amazingly talented, thoughtful chef. She could be the inspiration for the next generation of women chefs who are starting their culinary careers.