DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Early Monday morning before the doors of KBC in downtown Dothan open, owner Kelsey Barnard Clark pipes macrons onto parchment paper and checks the oven to see if her homemade pecan banana bread is ready.
“I do very classic Southern food, but there’s lots of influence of what I’ve done in my training, which is mostly French,” Clark explained. “I guess the best way to put it is a little bit of elevated Southern food.”
It’s a culinary style she showcased on the 16th season of the fiercely competitive reality show “Top Chef” on Bravo.
Kelsey is one of the 15 chefs from across the country cooking for judges to prove they are the best in the business. This season is based in Kentucky. Each episode, chefs compete in cooking challenges. The chef not meeting the mark is eliminated.
Of course, she couldn’t give away how far she got in the competition or if she won, but Kelsey says it was important for her to bring the intensity throughout the show to represent herself, her restaurant, and Dothan.
“If there is ever an opportunity where you can give back to your community and put your city on a map, especially when you’re from a small town like Dothan,” said Kelsey, “we don’t get a whole lot of attention. We don’t get a whole lot of opportunities for people to come down here, see what we’re about, and get to know what we’re like here. To get some attention on a national level, you can’t replace that.”
Kelsey says the excitement and energy you feel watching the show was even greater working inside the Top Chef kitchen.
“I remember when people were on it asking, ‘why are they running so much?' Then you realize when you get in there it’s huge! It’s really spread out and you don’t know where anything is. It’s extremely realistic,” Kelsey said. “People, in the back of their minds, think we know what’s going on. We literally don’t know anything. It’s like you couldn’t figure it out. It’s a big question and then [host] Padma [Lakshmi] comes out and is like, ’You have 20 minutes to make a dish’ and you’re like, 'Wait, what!?”
Throughout the season, the chefs get to present food in front of notable celebrities and the top five finalists compete for the title in China. Kelsey says the experience helped her grow as a chef and as a person.
“You learn a lot about yourself because you’re completely disconnected. You don’t have a phone. You don’t have a TV. This gave me a lot of confidence and clarity.”
You can cheer Kelsey on when the season premieres Thursday at 9/8 Central on Bravo.
The winning chef will earn the coveted title of “Top Chef” along with $125,000 furnished by S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, a feature in FOOD & WINE magazine and an appearance at the annual FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, as well as a $50,000 prizing package from Williams Sonoma and a headlining slot on the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage at BottleRock in Napa Valley.