All three of Top Chef Season 16’s finalists put up a good fight during the March 14 finale, but only one could be named champion. After 15 episodes of intense cooking and competition, the newest Top Chef winner is Kelsey Barnard Clark—the fourth woman to ever win the show.
Along with the Alabama native, the two other finalists, Washington, D.C.’s Eric Adjepong and Kentucky’s Sara Bradley, traveled every where from Kentucky to Nashville during the course of the season, and then all the way to Macau, China for the final three episodes.
Adjepong, one of PEOPLE’s Sexiest Chef Alive contestants, was the first chef eliminated during the finale, leaving Bradley and Clark to present their entire four-course meals for a selection of judges and food experts. Ultimately, hosts Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi were pleased to crown Clark the winner.
Raised in Dothan, Alabama, Clark used her Southern roots and hospitality to her advantage as a contestant on the Bravo show. Not only was her winning meal Southern-inspired (featuring cornbread and buttermilk, soft-shelled crab and peach cobbler), she was also awarded the fan favorite for her lovable personality. She told WTVY that she was honored to pick up this title along with her big win, saying, “That means that people appreciate who you are as a person, and for me, that’s all I really care about.”
Clark left her nine-month-old baby at home to compete on Top Chef, a difficult decision that eventually paid off in the $125,000 paycheck, $50,000 prize package and a number of future appearances in culinary magazines and events across the country. She also picked up an extra $10,000 for her fan favorite award.
“When I decided to do Top Chef , I was really concerned that it was going to be the biggest mistake of my life,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m glad that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The best bonus was getting to share the journey with this group of inspiring chefs I now call friends.”
The win came as a great joy to both Clark and the people of Dothan. Clark owns a restaurant and catering company there called KBC, which she plans to return to now that the show is over.