Worth the drive: KBC
Dothan native brings New York skills to downhome cooking
By Allison Griffin
In a land of fast-food restaurants, Dothan’s Kelsey Barnard Clark is creating food that is sophisticated yet clean, healthy and homemade, with a menu of what she calls “simple, well-done food.”
She started with Kelsey Barnard Catering, with a focus on high-quality ingredients and dishes that were elevated from the usual reception fare. Then came the restaurant opportunities: first was KBC Butcher Block, a lunch and brunch place that is also a market for locally-sourced products and her own baked goods; then came KBC on Foster, a weekday lunch-only eatery in historic downtown Dothan that also features an event space.
With training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and at such high-end New York restaurants as Cafe Boulud and Dovetail, Clark has a culinary pedigree that would land her in any high-end, fine-dining restaurant. But she chose to come back to Alabama after graduating from CIA and working in New York.
She didn’t know exactly what kind of business she wanted to run, but she knew she didn’t want to work for someone else.
A culinary foundation
Always a “go-getter,” she started cooking as a child and was doing catering jobs as a teenager. At 15, she asked high-end Dothan caterer Larry Williams if she could work for him. He asked if she had an apron, and when she said yes, he put her to work that day. She’s been working ever since.
After high school, she went to Auburn University for two years in the hotel and restaurant management program. Culinary school was always in her plan, but the two years at Auburn allowed her to mature and figure out that the CIA was where she wanted to go.
The CIA training was intense, but she’d go back now in a minute if she could. “I soaked every bit of it up.” Part of the program was an externship at an approved high-end restaurant, and she chose Cafe Boulud, an upscale French and Michelin-starred restaurant on the Upper East Side. The pressure was relentless.
“It’s very rigid,” she says of her training there, with “lots of yelling.” Ninety-hour weeks are the norm, with no pay. But the militaristic atmosphere and exceedingly high standards of such kitchens were good training, which she recommends to anyone looking to get into the restaurant business.
“You have to be the best. There’s no such thing as mediocre food in these places. You have to be perfect, because if you’re not you’re going to fail,” she says. She doesn’t have to maintain that intense pressure in her kitchens in Dothan, nor does she work all those hours. But the standards are always in her mind, and she believes such an experience builds character and work ethic.
And also a quality and consistency that customers notice.
Fresh, quality foods
She trained in fine dining, but knew that what works in New York wouldn’t really translate to a small Southern city like Dothan. Between football games and the beach, weekends down South can leave restaurants deserted, and the fine dining industry is primarily built on weekend traffic.
So she dialed back the concept for her businesses, but not the quality. She uses locally sourced produce and proteins when possible; everything is homemade.
“I eat healthy for the most part, so I told myself, what would I eat? There’s a huge amount of people who strive for healthy, fresh food. Things you know were not ripped open from a bag and reheated the day before.”
The food is simplified, but not dumbed down. “It’s really going back to the basics,” she says. “Anything on our plate has five things, usually, and it’s things like cheese, salt, olive oil. It’s just so simple. You won’t see much in our kitchens. You won’t see big bottles of seasonings or marinades.”
Both locations serve a variety of specialty sandwiches and wraps, salads, bowls and desserts. Weekly specials allow her to incorporate more local and seasonal products.
The restaurant menus have their mainstays because the customers come to expect them, but she likes to change things up. She says many restaurant owners want to just maintain what they have, but her staff jokes that just when they have the menu down pat, she shakes it up. “I guess that’s what I’m known for – you never know what you’re going to get in here.”
Doing catering allows her to really get creative and play around with menus, because every bride and every event is different. It’s also where she gets to be the most hands-on in terms of cooking.
And that’s where she envisions her next growth. Last year, she set a goal to start catering outside of Dothan, specifically along the Gulf coast, especially the 30A area. She hopes to double the number of weddings and events she caters and do more traveling for catering jobs.
She also started a bakery last December; before that, she was doing all the baking herself, and couldn’t keep up with demand.
“(With the) bakery, my concept was the same as the food, I wanted it to be simple,” she says. “Yeah, we have macaroons that are definitely not simple and one of the hardest things to make. But then we’ve got chocolate chip cookies … made with the best ingredients. (We hope) someone who eats our cookie says, ‘that’s the best cookie I ever had.’
“That’s because it tastes like something that your grandmother would make. That’s sort of our whole concept – if your grandmother doesn’t know what it is, we’re not going to put it in there.”
KBC Butcher Block
560 Westgate Parkway
Dothan, AL 36303
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
KBC on Foster
151 N. Foster St.
Dothan, AL 36303
11 a.m.-2 p.m.