The Emmy-winning Top Chef will feature Kansas City chef Renee Kelly of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in the upcoming season beginning Wednesday, December 2. This year’s season is a journey across the culinary landscape of California, with stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Oakland and Palm Springs. Host Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Richard Blais, and Emeril Lagasse, in addition to celebrity guest judges, will decide the fate of the contestants and decide who will earn the $125,000 prize furnished by San Pelegrino.
OF: How were you selected to compete?
RK: It’s really a fun story. There was a Facebook post about the top 10 restaurants in KC and my restaurant, Renee Kelly’s Harvest, wasn’t on the list. Fans of the restaurant started posting that those who decided the Top 10 obviously didn’t know about RKH and it generated enough comments and discussion online that a scout from Bravo noticed. That’s how I was tapped.
OF: In preparing for the competition, did you talk to Celina Tio or Debbie Gold about their experiences in TV cooking competitions?
RK: No, but I probably should have. I did talk to some of my other K.C. chef friends like Michael Faust about their experiences in different food competitions.
OF: How did your experience as a caterer help you in the competition?
RK: It was really a combination of my experiences, not just catering. After finishing culinary school, I worked in the banquet department of a hotel, then as a line cook, in the fine dining kitchen, and then in a resort. I returned to Kansas City to open Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Shawnee. My style is simple, and my different experiences gave me a comfort level with working under pressure.
OF: What about being a chef in Kansas City helped you in the competition? Were you able to put a Midwestern spin on California ingredients, or how can you bring this home to your K.C viewers and readers?
RK: I really like to use local and sustainable ingredients in my kitchen, and I am accustomed to working with what nature and the seasons provide. The fact that I’m from Middle America came up several times during the competition and seemed to generate comments. Personally, I was always hoping that the surprise ingredient would be something with hooves or a beak, not some big whole coastal sea creature that I wasn’t really too familiar with.
OF: Did you have a judge that really inspired you, or one that you most looked up to?
RK: Definitely Gail Simmons.
OF: When you’re out filming, who takes care of the Castle (for those of you unfamiliar with it, Renee Kelly’s Harvest looks like a big old stone castle)?
RK: My General Manager, Harry Blasco did a great job holding everything together.
OF: Are we going to see some of your dishes on the menu at RKH?
RK: There is a very good possibility of that, but no spoilers!
For more information visit reneekellysharvest.com or Bravotv.com. Facebook at Top Chef.