Kelsey Barnard Clark shares what to eat for Kentucky Derby

top boss Season 16 winner Kelsey Barnard Clark says her Kentucky Derby menu will consist of traditional Southern foods like “hot brown” sliders and deviled eggs. (Photo: Williams Sonoma)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what’s on their menu in Deglazeda series about food.

Before she charmed the nation and won it all on top boss Season 16 in Louisville, Ky., chef Kelsey Barnard Clark was spreading Southern sensibility in some of America’s best kitchens and building an impressive culinary pedigree.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Barnard Clark found herself working on both the savory and pastry sides of Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City, including French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud.

In 2012, Barnard Clark moved back to her hometown of Dothan, Ala., where she opened her catering company, Kelsey Barnard Catering. Her book, Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cookis on sale now.

Since her Bravo win, she’s kept herself busy, including a partnership with Williams Sonoma, Churchill Downs and Woodford Reserve to help party hosts make May 7, the day of the Kentucky Derby, a date to remember.

“Your attitude is key to hosting a great party,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I think a lot of times when people are planning parties, they think about every single detail except themselves and how they feel about the whole thing.”

Barnard Clark says if you’re not having a good time, there’s a good chance your guests are going to notice, So when it comes to in-home entertaining, the 31-year-old chef says it’s important to only bite off what you can chew “Be realistic with yourself,” she says. “Can you do all of this in the timeframe you have? If not, let go of something — the flowers, the place settings, the extra nibbles.”

Her secret to keeping a cool head before she plays hostess with the mostest? A glass of champagne and an episode of Sex and the City in her bedroom before the guests arrive. “That show puts me in the right mindset,” she says. “They’re going out. They look amazing. I want to go out and look amazing, too.”

Barnard Clark’s reputation as the “dinner party whisperer” is what made her Derby collab with Williams Sonoma so natural. Plus, shopping at the kitchen store has been a favorite hobby since she was a little girl.

“When I was young, my mom would drive me an hour to the nearest Williams Sonoma,” she says. “I thought it was such a cool store and so beautiful with so many things to look at and explore. I never wanted to shop for clothes. I just wanted to look at all the [kitchen] gadgets.”

When the brand approached her about a Kentucky Derby-themed collaboration, Barnard Clark’s knowledge she gained on top boss Season 16, which took place in the historic horse race’s hometown of Louisville, came in handy.

“The race was never really a part of my childhood, but I loved learning about it on top boss,” Barnard Clark says. “It’s such a cool and interesting sport and there’s so much culture there that I didn’t know about.”

Barnard Clark is also an unabashed fashionista, so the Derby’s long tradition of playing dress-up had major appeal. “It’s rare that you have a sport where the people attending and what they’re wearing is just as important as the sport itself,” she says.

Barnard Clark says deviled eggs make a perfect hand-held snack on Derby day.  (Photo: Williams Sonoma)

Barnard Clark says deviled eggs make a perfect hand-held snack on Derby day. (Photo: Williams Sonoma)

On her Derby menu this year: Kentucky “hot brown” sliders, chicken biscuits and some fun desserts. She also advises hosts to keep things simple by sticking to grab-and-go foods — like deviled eggs — that are easy to eat without needing a full place setting.

Though Barnard Clark’s expertise lies in throwing incredible parties and showingcasing tasty foods and celebratory beverages with serious panache through her catering company, her heart lies at home in her garden and her own kitchen. For Mother’s Day this year, the busy mom of two says she’ll probably cook for her family from what’s growing in her garden.

“I’ll be at our beach house,” she says, “and I like to cook on Mother’s Day: It’s my favorite thing to do. We all sit around and drink champagne. It’s just very, very relaxed. There’s never really a traditional menu — sometimes we’ll be fancy and sometimes it’ll be really casual.”

Her favorite thing to eat at home is seafood and her go-to meal includes going out to the garden, seeing what’s ready and pairing it with a spectacular protein — usually fish. “Cooking for me has always been a peaceful activity,” she explains. “My two kids are watching TV or something and I’m just enjoying myself in the kitchen with a glass of wine.”

Barnard Clark regularly cooks to music, usually something that has that “old radio vibe” like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and Ray Charles, all of which are on regular rotation in her kitchen.

The combination of fresh seafood, beach breezes and vibrant flavors is Barnard Clark’s favorite way to eat, and her fixer-upper beach house in Panama City Beach, Fla. has made that a regular possibility for her. “I grew up crabbing and fishing a lot, so when we bought this beach house, I wanted that experience for my kids, too,” she says.

Barnard Clark's key to hosting a relaxing dinner party?  Watching a TV show and drinking champagne in her room before guests arrive.  (Photo: Williams Sonoma)

Barnard Clark’s key to hosting a relaxing dinner party? Watching a TV show and drinking champagne in her room before guests arrive. (Photo: Williams Sonoma)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what’s on their menu in Deglazeda series about food.

The first thing she did when they moved in was set crab traps. “It took about two days to get enough crabs to make gumbo, but once we did, we sat out on the picnic table and cracked crabs and ate gumbo and it made me the happiest I’ve ever been,” she shares. “It seemed like such a simple thing, but it’s one of the most memorable meals of my life.”

Whether throwing a party for 100 guests or spending a quiet Sunday in the kitchen with family, Barnard Clark keeps it real. “It doesn’t have to be fancy all the time,” she says. “:If you are happy, the food will be good and it will be a good experience for everyone.”

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