Cheese may be a staple of Southern cuisine, but it wasn’t until Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark began training in the French style that she began to understand its culinary power beyond the comfort of its primal, gooey goodness. “It opened up my world and introduced me to the fact that there were so many different types of cheese and that you could use it in different ways,” says the owner of the KBC restaurant in Dothan, Alabama.
One of her favorite tricks, for example, is simmering a parmesan rind in soups, stews, and stocks. “You don’t technically add an ingredient, but the way it makes [the food] feel and cover your mouth, everything comes to life,” she explains.
After returning south from New York City to open her catering business and restaurant, Barnard Clark used her experience with cheese to take Southern favorites to the next level, capturing the perfect balance between what people expect and elaborate, exciting and nuanced flavors. “Using a mature cheese adds some saltiness or a sourness that normally wouldn’t be there, while a very aged cheese adds umami; you can get this whole layer of flavor that you couldn’t otherwise create or get from anything else,” says the Top Chef season 16 champion. “It’s simple, but there’s depth, and to me that’s what makes the best food — it’s just simple and well done.”
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Barnard Clark shares three classic recipes, each with a simple yet modern twist: a grilled pimiento cheese with bacon that imparts a hint of smoke and Cajun kick, grits with a trio of cheeses that hold up alongside savory grills, and a Caesar salad special ( and uniquely southern) made with a secret ingredient in the dressing and a crispy-outside-melty-inside sidekick. Ready to dig in, y’all?