In 2015, Renee Kelly made a name for herself as the self-proclaimed sassy chef on Bravo’s Top Chef. She didn’t take home top honors, but her restaurant, Renee Kelly’s Harvest, located in the historic Caenen Castle in Shawnee, Kansas, flourished with a focus on farm-to-table ingredients and dishes. Yet in October, after four years, Kelly shuttered the restaurant, in large part because her local television show, Harvest with Renee Kelly, has taken off.
Harvest with Renee Kelly airs Sunday mornings on KCWE, featuring a host of local farms and the restaurants that work with them, including Pearl Family Farm, Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos and Hank Charcuterie. Each season includes 13 episodes, and Kelly is currently slated to do at least two seasons a year. Kelly and her parents still own Caenen Castle; she has several cooking classes planned in the space, including one on aphrodisiac foods on Feb. 8 and paleo desserts on March 1.
Was closing the restaurant a difficult decision? I think it’s always a difficult decision for someone to close the business that they spent so many years working on, but there are so many opportunities coming my way that are brilliant, and it’s time for a change. I’ve been on the line for 21 years, so my career is at its “drinking age;” I think it’s OK for me to break out and do something else.
Tell us about Harvest with Renee Kelly. How many people get the opportunity to do a television show right out of the gate? The possibilities are kind of endless right now. The goal is to link together the farmer and the soil to everyone’s food. Right now, it’s a 30-minute show, and we do a farm segment, and the following segment is a restaurant featuring that farm, and in the future we’ll mesh those together. People have been asking for recipes; I’ll most likely do a short recipe demo, too.
What do you enjoy most about doing the show? One of the things that's really advantageous about me being a farm-to-table chef is that I have a little black book of farmers in the area, and what Harvest with Renee Kelly does is shine a huge spotlight on those people and really explore their expertise. Each farmer – they all have their signature on how they do things, and that’s what makes them an expert. It’s so enriching to tell their story and be a part of their day.
What else do you have in the works? I’ve just launched Alphie Treats, which is a line of therapeutic equine treats, bone broth for dogs and cats, and therapeutic dog and cat treats. I collaborated on this with my vet; for example, three equine cookies have enough turmeric for their daily allowance. It’s been interesting to do the research and development. We send everything down to Kansas State University to get tested, and I go to horse shows and get feedback. It’s been cool because animals don’t lie – if the food is good, they’ll gobble it up! It’s kind of crazy, but I have a 17-year-old dog. I figured, since I’ve been fixing my dog food for the last 10 years and treats for about that long, why not do this, too?
Do you see yourself ever returning to the kitchen and running a restaurant? I’ve been asked to open a couple concepts in 2018, and I’m going take a really hard look at them. If it’s the right space and opportunity, then why not?