Kelsey Barnard Clark spent Thursday night celebrating her Top Chef season 16 win with her family, friends, and neighbors in her southeastern Alabama town of Dothan.
“It was this huge street party; it was just insane,” the Bravo reality cooking competition winner tells EW. “It was just amazing.”
Along with the title of Top Chef, Clark — who is the chef and proprietor of a Dothan restaurant called KBC — picked up a $125,000 paycheck, a $50,000 prize package, and a number of future appearances in culinary magazines and events across the country. She also scored an extra $10,000 when it was revealed she was voted fan favorite for the season — which may mean even more to her.
“The most important thing, to me, is being a good person,” she says. “And I guess people saw that in me, which is great.”
Clark also feels rewarded thanks to all the women who have reached out on social media after watching her on the show. The chef says it was difficult leaving her 9-month-old son at home to compete on Top Chef, but she’s thrilled that others have been inspired by watching her find a way to balance family and business.
“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,]” she 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.”
Still, her bank accounts are looking a lot more full thanks to her win.
“Honestly, I haven’t even hardly thought about the money,” says Clark. “I mean in the very, very near horizon I plan on renovating my restaurant, because it’s badly needs it. But the biggest reason to renovate is that I want KBC to become a destination restaurant that people will drive to come to because it’s got such a cool atmosphere. I want them to drive to Dothan and stay and shop at the stores and stay in the hotels. That’s what drives me. I want it to help build our town up.”
And while Clark believes she will always remain a Dothan girl, she does also dream big.
“I don’t see KBC being my only restaurant,” she says. “What does that mean? What does that look like? I’m not sure, but it’ll play itself out over the next few years.”
Looking back on her time on season 16 of Top Chef, Clark admits “it was much harder” than she ever expected, but it also allowed her to solidify her philosophy about food and being a chef. (Take a look at every delicious dish Clark crafted this season — along with all the other contestant’s creations — in our season 16 gallery.)
“I think that in the past we’ve said, ‘You have to be Michelin star restaurant.’ ‘You have to win a James Beard.’ ‘You have to make super-fancy foods that you have to plate with tweezers.’ And I think I still do that a little bit, but I want my food to be approachable,” she says. “I was a little worried how that would translate on a show like Top Chef, but [the show] has given me the confidence to cook the way I want to cook. I like elevated food, but there’s also an art to very simple, classic dishes. That’s what I did all season, and it paid off. It solidified me as a chef, and that’s something I really appreciate.”