ABOVE Kelsey Barnard Clark’s special salsa and an array of wines and foods are available for purchase at KBC Butcher Block & Market. Photos by Todd Douglas
Not many people can say they catered their first wedding at age 14. But Kelsey Barnard Clark doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in cooking. As early as age 12, cooking was a serious hobby for Clark — inspired by her great-grandmother, who came to America from Germany and opened Karl’s restaurant in Mobile.
Clark worked for Dothan caterer Larry Williams and cake decorator Cakes by Design until about 2009. She then went to Auburn for two years and studied hotel and restaurant management.
“I always knew I wanted to go to culinary school, ” Clark says. She fulfilled her dream when she left Auburn and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. And that’s when she decided to make cooking her career. She spent more than two years at the Institute with no holidays or breaks.
“It’s hard to make people understand how tough it was, ” Clark says. “You learn a four-year degree in only two years. If you missed one day, you failed. It was very regimented.”
While at the Culinary Institute of America, Clark studied culinary arts and did a six-week study in pastry. Her favorite classes were meat and fish fabrication.
“I spent a lot of time breaking up fish just for practice, ” Clark says. “There are so many types of fish you can’t possibly learn them all.”
Clark did a six-month externship at Café Boulud and was offered a job there. But she declined, choosing instead to broaden her experience after graduation by working in pastry at Dovetail.
“Both are Michelin restaurants, top tier, ” Clark says. “It was very intense. The kitchens were completely silent at all times.”
After staying at Dovetail for about a year, Clark realized she needed to make a choice. She knew she didn’t want to work in fine dining for a living and she wanted to come back to Dothan. Her mentor, Larry Williams, had died, leaving a void in the area for a fine dining caterer. So, she jumped at the chance to come back to her roots and started her catering business.
“It was great to start as a caterer because I was able to make my own schedule, ” Clark says. “There was a lot less of a risk because I didn’t have much overhead.”
Clark’s plan was to get a following as a caterer and eventually introduce a storefront. She opened her first establishment, KBC Butcher Block & Market, on Westgate Parkway in Dothan two years ago. Less than one year ago, she opened her second eatery and catering business, KBC on Foster, on Foster Street in downtown Dothan.
“I didn’t expect to open a second location in two years, but the downtown location was always part of the plan, ” she says.
Clark’s two locations feature specialty sandwiches, salads and desserts. Her Westgate location is also a market that sells jams, jellies and pickles. She serves a Saturday brunch featuring French toast, crabcakes, house smoked brisket and other brunch favorites including bloody Marys and mimosas. Weekly specials served at both locations allow Clark to take advantage of seasonal produce and local ingredients.
Even with the opening of her two restaurants, Clark still does catering and business is booming. Clark’s customers are quick to compliment the food and presentation. Rather than use a florist to help with decorating, Clark and her team collect antiques and other pieces and create their own decorations.
All the food prepared by Clark is fresh. Nothing is frozen, and everything is homemade. She uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible for both her catering and her restaurant menus.
“If they have it locally, we get it locally, ” Clark says.
Community involvement is important to Clark, so she participates in a Farm to Fork program that benefits downtown Dothan. She has also catered a Farm to Plate dinner at Landmark Park, Alabama’s state museum of agriculture. Clark plans to continue her catering, currently branching out to doing weddings and events at the beach.
With her two popular locations and growing catering business, Clark is following in the footsteps of her great grandmother, while paving her own way in her Southern hometown.
Laura Stakelum and Todd Douglas are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Stakelum is based in Dothan and Douglas in Panama City, Florida.