Winning Season 16 of Top Chef has been a life-changing experience for Kelsey Barnard Clark. Last week she celebrated her win with friends and family in her hometown of Dothan, Alabama, and she also scored a check for $125,000 plus a $50,000 prize package and a $10,000 bonus for being voted fan favorite.
Clark is the owner and chef at KBC restaurant in Dothan, and she says it was a huge challenge to balance her career with her growing family. Clark is the mom of a 9-month-old son named Monroe, but hearing from her female fans on social media was a huge boost.
“I get a lot of messages on Instagram from women who are having a hard time balancing career and family and are feeling guilty. I mean, guilt as a mother is a real — and that was what I struggled with the most when I was [on Top Chef,]” Clark says. “I’ve had a ton of women just showing support and providing camaraderie. It’s nice to be able to lift them up and be lifted up by them. It’s a wonderful thing.”
According to Entertainment Weekly, Clark has not had the time yet to think about the money she won, but she does have plans for renovating her restaurant so it can become a “destination.” She has dreams of people driving to Dothan to eat at KBC because of the cool atmosphere and then having them stay in the local hotels and shopping in Dothan stores.
“That’s what drives me. I want it to help build our town up,” explains Clark.
However, her dreams are far bigger than Dothan. Clark says KBC won’t be her only restaurant. She isn’t sure yet what that will look like. She says that will play out over the next few years.
Clark says being a part of Top Chef was “much harder” than she thought it would be, but it made her even more confident about her approach to food. She says that in the past, chefs have been told that they need to have a Michelin star restaurant and win big awards while making fancy foods that “you have to plate with tweezers.”
Kelsey wants her food to be more approachable, and there is an art to simple, classic dishes. She says that approach to food paid off for her this season, and it solidified her as a chef.
As the fourth woman to win the show, Clark had to make a major sacrifice while competing. Leaving behind her young son to film for nine weeks meant she had to miss his first steps, and that nearly caused her to quit the competition.
During one of only three calls she was able to make home during filming, she found out that Monroe had started to walk, and Clark says she lost it and it put her in a spiral for days.
The only way she was able to cope was to focus on the competition and hope that her time on Top Chef would better her family in the long run.
It turns out, that strategy paid off.