'Top Chef' Winner Kelsey Barnard Clark on What It’s Like to Win and What’s Next
Plus, what the Dothan, Alabama-based chef plans to do with her prize money.
Another season of Top Chef is in the books and the crown has gone to Kelsey Barnard Clark, the self-proclaimed ‘southern belle’ of the competition, hailing from Alabama. Kelsey quickly proved herself to be one of the front runners of the competition by racking up challenge win after challenge win, serving dishes that combined her southern roots with the high end, fine dining techniques she learned working at some of the best restaurants in New York City. In the end, Kelsey won it all, taking the title of Top Chef season 16 thanks to her four-course finale meal that the judges praised because of the technique she showcased and her ability to incorporate Macanese ingredients into her dishes.
Now, the chef is gearing up to renovate her restaurant, EAT KBC in Dothan, Alabama and expanding her home garden to include a chicken coop(!) while soaking up her win. We caught up with Kelsey to ask about what’s next and what she learned during her time on the show.
Food & Wine: You won Top Chef! Congrats! How does it feel?
Kelsey Barnard Clark: It feels wonderful! It gave me a validation that all of the time away and the sacrifices were worth it.
FW: What inspired you to compete on Top Chef?
KBC: I am always looking to push myself and honestly to do things that scared me. Nothing scared me more than Top Chef.
FW: What was the biggest lesson you took away from your time on Top Chef?
KBC: I gained so much confidence as a chef, mother, and person. I feel like I came back with a clear head and direction on how to handle every situation as if it's a reality [show] challenge. When you know you're being filmed, you thoughtfully think out each step you make and the words that come out of your mouth. I've applied that to my life in little ways here and there.
FW: What did you think when you first met your competitors and saw them in action?
KBC: “What have I done?”
FW: What did you learn about Macanese cuisine that surprised you? Will you be incorporating the flavors of Macau into your dishes back home?
KBC: Oh yes. I love the way they cook. It's very traditional and there’s a mad respect for classic techniques.
FW: What was your favorite challenge?
KBC: Honestly, the finale. I had a sense of calm and appreciation wash over me during the two days of cooking. I knew it was my last time in that Top Chef kitchen and I truly wanted to soak it all in. I had complete trust and confidence in my sous chefs, Brandon & Nini, so I was able to really enjoy it and not take the situation for granted.
FW: How has the reaction been to your win?
KBC: It's been amazing, really. I've had nothing but support and kind words sent my way. My town is so excited. I'm sure there's some negative but I don't have time for that.
FW: How would you have felt if Sara or Eric won?
KBC: Naturally, I would have been disappointed to go home but at the end of the day, the best meal wins and that's how it should be.
FW: You’ve said that in addition to using the prize money for your restaurant and catering business, you’re going to do “some fun stuff” too. Can you tell us a bit about the “fun stuff” you have planned?
KBC: The "fun stuff" involves taking a few members of my staff to the events I'll be cooking/demoing at — specifically Aspen & Bottlerock. It's a chance for them to be in that high-caliber environment and I'm hoping they'll soak it up and come back with tons of inspiration. It's also been a dream of mine to have a huge garden & chickens in my yard which we're doing now (eek!). I want nothing more than for Monroe to be outside working & learning as much as he can. In my free time, you'll probably find me in the garden with dirt on my hands, sun on my back, chickens at my feet and a glass of champagne.
FW: What’s next for you?
KBC: We're about to start renovating my restaurant, KBC, in Dothan which I'm super pumped about. It's going to be really hectic but so worth it. After that, the sky’s the limit. I plan on saying "yes" more than "no" this year.
Check out our interview with all three Top Chef finalists, our list of what the Season 16 cheftestants are up to now, and our Top Chef-themed tour guides to Kentucky and Macau.