In Top Chef Kentucky, chef Sara Bradley might have been representing her home state, but her locally influenced dishes showcased the versatility of the talent.
Sara Bradley, as the lone Kentucky chef, reached the final in Top Chef Kentucky. While her local expertise might have seemed like an advantage, this chef and restaurateur had more than state pride on the line. As she looks ahead, Sara spoke about her Top Chef experience, her restaurant freight house and what the future holds.
For the past couple of seasons, Top Chef seems to try to include a local chef in each season. With Top Chef Season 16 focusing on Kentucky and its bustling culinary scene, Sara, whose restaurant freight house is located in Paducah, Kentucky, was “the” local chef. Her spot in this season’s competition was well earned.
Episode after episode, Sara fought hard. In cases where it was “expected” that she would rise to the top, her dishes were creative, nuanced and deservedly impressed the judges. The local proved that she was a force in the kitchen.
Given that she was the “Kentucky” chef, she had to have felt the pressure. Sara said, “I think I started the competition with the weight of the state on my shoulders. But as I progressed, I started to relax. By the time I started cooking in Macau, I had figured out how to use the stress as a motivating factor for my performance. I hope I did my home state proud. I think I did.”
Clearly, she did her state proud and then some. Sara was able to showcase the layers in Southern food, specifically Kentucky favorites. While she can definitely make a delectable fried chicken, Sara pushed foodies’ perceptions beyond that initial thought. Kentucky is more than just a few preconceived dishes.
While this Top Chef showed highlights like Maker’s Mark, Kentucky offers a plethora of local favorites that foodies need to explore. When asked, Sara said, “I wish the show had shown more about our country ham. In Kentucky we are making country ham that is very similar to prosciutto or speck. We even have a country ham trail, just like the bourbon trail. It starts super close to my hometown.”
TOP CHEF — Episode 1615 — Sara’s fourth course (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)
Additionally, she mentioned a very intriguing local ingredient. While food trends are starting to focus on “garbage” fish, invasive fish aren’t a hot topic (yet). Sara said, “I really wish they would have featured Asian Carp. It is an invasive fish and Kentucky is working hard to control the population… and one way to do that is to eat it.”
Although Southern food often focuses on comforting dishes, she mentioned a local ingredient that was totally unexpected. Did you know that Kentucky has caviar? Sara said, “We have some of the most amazing Paddlefish and Sturgeon wild caught caviar in the world.”
Looking at Sara’s restaurant, freight house, her menu does a wonderful job of highlighting local ingredients. Her thoughtful menu uses local farmers in creative ways. Specifically, she said “We have sought out farmers to produce specific ingredients for us and it is working impressively well. It is a major priority of freight house to source as much as possible locally.”
TOP CHEF — “Restaurant Wars Part 2” Episode 1605 — Pictured: Sara Bradley — (Photo by: Michael Hickey/Bravo)
Looking back at the Top Chef season, it is clear why she so thoughtfully tended to her garden. While not a huge storyline in the season, chefs have an opportunity to introduce, educate and encourage food fans by their decisions. Whether it was Sara tending to the garden or her priorities in her restaurant, she sets a wonderful example.
That example can even extend to today’s kitchen culture. It was extremely refreshing to see two women chefs, who both supported each other, in the finale. While there were a few disagreements along the way, the women chefs proved that they were a force.
Sara said, “The culture of kitchens is changing, and in a positive way. There are definitely more females in leadership roles. It is vital that we support each other and break the glass ceilings. We can’t allow this to be a boys’ club much longer. I think the great part about Kelsey and I is that we recognize this and don’t mind using sass to get things done.”
While Sara might have referred to it as “sass” it might be something else. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Culinary authority isn’t gender related. It comes with hard work, a clear vision and a determination to achieve. All characteristics that Sara Bradley has earned.
TOP CHEF — “The Tao of Macau” Episode 1614 — Pictured: Sara Bradley — (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)
Now that Top Chef Kentucky is over, Sara has a new, exciting path ahead of her. Occasionally during the season, she was referred to as “momma.” Sara is expecting her first child. While she is ready to embrace motherhood, she does have a concern. “One of my biggest fears, albeit silly, about becoming a mother is that my child will be a super picky eater.”
Watching this season, Sara’s relationship with her own mother was endearing. Looking ahead, she mentioned that she is “so excited to show her the world and all the flavors in it. She will definitely be raised in a kitchen, on my hip, eating chicken liver pate and mashed parsnips. I’m sure she will learn to make pie dough from my mother as well.”
Even though Sara might be slowing down a little ahead of her daughter’s birth, she is ready for more. She said, “My parents instilled some serious work ethic in me and I am excited and proud to pass it along. I also have big dreams for a new spot. Can’t give too much away now, but maybe I will name it after my Grandmother, Lula. Also, my child’s namesake.”
Until that next adventure starts, fans can visit Sara’s restaurant, freight house, in Paducah, Kentucky. If you wondered what that finale Top Chef finale meal might taste like, it has been added to the restaurant’s menu. From “matzo balls and chicken and NOT box waffles on the menu,” fans can truly experience their own version of Top Chef Kentucky.