One of the fun parts of writing a Top Chef power ranking is that you can look back and see exactly what your first impressions of a contestant were and compare them to how those impressions evolved over the season. It’d be cool if you could do that with your friends.
Here’s what I first wrote about Top Chef season 16’s eventual winner, Kelsey Barnard Clark:
Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. Aka Elle Woods. Aka Roll Tide. Aka Can I Speak To Your Manager?
Early Impressions: Sort of like if vocal fry was a person. With her raspy drawl, debutante clothes, and boozy affect, I kept thinking Alabama-bred Kelsey was about to slosh her drink on me and explain why I’ll always be a doorman. Weirdly, this is charming.
So how has my impression evolved? Well, now I know that she’s also a pretty great chef. Clark was perhaps this season’s most quip-ready contestant, and one of her central qualities is that her persona comes across so strongly, almost immediately. In a Top Chef season notably lacking in compelling, TV-ready personae (with all due respect to Eddie), Kelsey stood out as one of the most entertaining. She ended up getting voted “fan favorite” at the end of the season, tacking another $10,000 onto her $125,000 haul for winning.
The cash will surely help with a few expenses for the new mother, whose first child took his first steps while she off filming the show. And the money will go further than it would for the chefs still working in, say, New York or San Francisco, since Clark plans to continue running her restaurant and catering business in her hometown of Dothan, Alabama. It’s a place Clark describes as “very much like Sweet Home Alabama.”
Look, I don’t want to say I was right to instantly compare Kelsey to a Reese Witherspoon character, but…
I spoke to Clark over the phone this past week, and she offered the inside scoop on the incompetent Restaurant Wars waiters, finicky Hunter Hayes, and Kentuckians turning out for Top Chef events.
So, you know, you just won Top Chef, what are you gonna do now?
I mean technically I won it eight months ago. You know, just trying to take all these opportunities. I mean hopefully this doesn’t die, and it’s not just this season. That’s the goal with anyone who’s been on the show is you don’t want it to just end after you’re done.
So how hard was it to keep the secret for the whole eight months?
It really wasn’t. I mean, if you have any respect for the show, which I do, there’s a huge excitement obviously about who wins. But more than that it’s like you want people to be very fooled the whole time. Nobody likes the person that they think is gonna win from day one to win to be honest, ’cause that’s just boring.
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A few personal notes from each dish . . . 1- If there was ever a dish to define me on one plate, it’d be these oysters. Classic southern meets traditional French – simple, balanced, a little indulgent😉 2- The buttermilk & cornbread was actually an intense chicken & dried mushroom stock that was mixed with buttermilk to make a chilled soup. It was pretty delightful. 3- I could eat field peas & succotash every single day. 4- Honeysuckle & peaches is my strongest & fondest childhood food memory. The smell reminds me of innocence. #Repost @bravotopchef with @get_repost ・・・ @KelseyBarnardClark showcased her Alabama roots one plate at a time, and wowed the judges w/ her delicate, yet complex flavors. Which of these winning dishes would you like to try the most?! 🍽 #topchef #finale #winner
Did you have to keep it from your family and stuff too?
I mean my mom and my husband knew because they were there [at the live finale]. But I didn’t tell my whole family.
How long were you gone from your family to shoot the show?
I guess it was like 10 or nine weeks total. The first part was about, I cannot remember these numbers for the life of me. I think I’ve blocked it out on purpose. The first part of it was from like May to the end of June and then the second part was just like two weeks of July.
Were there any important milestones that you missed while you were away?
Oh, you know, just my child walking and talking, other than that, meh, nothing at all.
But at least you ended up winning at the end.
Yeah. Thank God for that, or else I’d be like burning buildings down. I’m kidding. Yeah, you know, it was a very sucky time for me because… I am thankful that I didn’t know. I think it would’ve been significantly worse if this was my second child and I knew exactly what I was going to be missing. Not knowing is sometimes better than knowing.