Kelsey Barnard Clark ’11, Top Chef Season 16 Winner
“The only game plan I had going into Top Chef was to cook my food and be myself,” Chef Clark says. “If I win, I was going to win with what I do. ”
CIA Alumni Bio
Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark, executive chef and owner of KBC in Dothan, AL, was always interested in cooking. “There isn’t a memory in my life where cooking wasn’t included,” she says. In fact, she was inspired by her great-grandmother who came to America from Germany and opened Karl’s restaurant in Mobile, AL. Chef Clark was raised in Dothan, AL. At the age of 12, she started baking cakes for her friends. “Before you know it, people were buying cakes from her,” say her mother Laura. “Next thing I know we’re catering a wedding! My daughter was 15 at the time.” In high school, Chef Clark worked for local caterer Larry Williams, who became her mentor.
Making a Career
Chef Clark attended Auburn University to study hotel and restaurant management. But, after two years she made a change. “I always knew I wanted to go to culinary school and The Culinary Institute of America solidified my dream of making a career in the food world,” says Chef Clark. Her internship was under Chef Gavin Kaysen at Café Boulud. He offered Chef Clark a job after graduation but she declined, wanting instead to focus on pastry at John Fraser’s Dovetail in New York City. It was there she met fellow Top Chef cheftestant Sara Bradley.
Owning Her Own Business
At the age of 23, Chef Clark moved back to Dothan and opened Kelsey Barnard Catering on Westgate Parkway. “My mentor Larry Williams had died leaving a void in the area for a fine dining caterer,” she says. Business was so good that Chef Clark soon opened KBC Butcher Block, which features a market selling jams, jellies, and pickles. Her second location, KBC, consist of an eatery, catering service, and bakery. All the food prepared by Chef Clark is fresh and house made. “We don’t do fussy—just good, wholesome food with a unique focus on presentation. We respect the beauty of whole, clean food,” Chef Clark says.
Top Chef Winner
Top Chef came calling in 2017. “I made it to the final rounds of the tryouts, but found out I was pregnant and couldn’t do it,” she says. Chef Clark was invited back for season 16. “The only game plan I had going into Top Chef was to cook my food and be myself,” Chef Clark says. “If I win, I was going to win with what I do. I wasn’t going to try and be some frou-frou person that I’m not. I was just going to do what I do.”
Her plan worked, and on March 14, 2019 the final episode aired with Chef Clark coming out the winner. The prize package includes $125,000, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, $50,000 in Williams Sonoma products, and an appearance at the annual Food & Wine Classic event in Aspen, CO. She was also voted Fan Favorite, which included an additional $10,000 award. “Top Chef made me realize that I am stronger than I thought. I want to keep paying it forward back in Dothan and stay true to my roots,” she says. “I’m just hoping to keep this ball rolling, and say “yes” more than I say “no,” and stay seriously open to everything
For now, Chef Clark is happy to be back in Dothan with her husband, son, extended family, and two dogs. She will continue to live by Julia Child’s advice—“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients