Sara Bradley spoke with Solzy at the Movies about competing in Top Chef World All-Stars and the previous impact from the Kentucky season.
After stints in both New York and Chicago, Bradley came back to start up Freight House in her hometown of Paducah, Kentucky.
Top Chef World All-Stars premieres tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on Bravo. Every episode will be supersized to 75 minutes in length. Episodes will be available to stream the next day on Peacock.
Mazel tov on being a part of the Top Chef all-star season! How did it feel to be selected?
Sara Bradley: It was pretty good. It was really exciting. It felt better than the first time.
What was the biggest impact for Freight House and your life in general with previously competing during the Kentucky season?
Sara Bradley: I think it was definitely a financial boost. Economical—servers are making more tips, cooks are getting more hours. All of the places around here, people are traveling from all over the country to come and eat in Paducah, Kentucky, so the whole community felt the impact. I would say that and just a little bit of fame. Not much fortune.
This season takes contestants from London until the grand finale in Paris. Did you get any time to explore London outside of being on the show?
Sara Bradley: When you’re on the show, we don’t do a ton of exploration but that’s because we’re all really in the mindset of competition. We get to eat tons of great food, they feed us well. But also, due to COVID restrictions, they don’t want people out exploring. If somebody gets COVID, it shuts the whole place down. I got to have a great time and meet lots of really cool people.
When did you first develop an interest in becoming a chef?
Sara Bradley: I think it stems a lot from my upbringing. My mother was always cooking with us in the kitchen, always making desserts. We had a home-cooked meal every night for dinner and then a lot from my grandmother from Eastern Kentucky. I always loved being with her—lots of preserving, lots of cooking. It was all done seasonally and locally and that’s kind of what my style has developed into now.
How did your brief stay in Chicago have an impact on your career?
Sara Bradley: It’s interesting. When I was in New York, I really learned crazy technique. Everything was so technique-driven. I just really absorbed all of that. When I got to Chicago, not that it wasn’t as technique-driven, but it was just a different style of cooking. It was also a very different style of management. I think from there, I started to be able to pull and learn from everywhere that I had cooked and develop my own style of how I wanted to run a restaurant, the style of food I wanted to cook. I love Chicago. It’s just too cold for me. Too cold.
I’d say LA’s probably just as cold right at the moment.
Sara Bradley: Yeah. It’s nice here. It’s 70 degrees. We’re chillin’, having a good time.
Can you send some of that up here?
Sara Bradley: I know. I can’t take it. It’s too cold in Chicago.
Is there a family recipe that you cherish the most?
Sara Bradley: At the restaurant now, we still serve my grandmother’s cornbread recipe. We bake it in cast iron skillets that I got from her. That is one that I really love making every day. I think the other family recipe that I really cherish is my mother’s brisket. Nobody makes a brisket like my mother. It’s just packed with tons and tons and tons of onions and slow-cooked. When I smell it or eat brisket, it just brings me back to being a child.
If someone is thinking of visiting Paducah, what would be your pitch for having them visit Freight House?
Sara Bradley: Well, I wouldn’t say just come to Freight House because we’re kind of far from everything. We’re not that far from Chicago, maybe five-six hours. But if you’re going to come to Paducah, you should spend the weekend. There is tons of stuff to do here. We’re a UNESCO city for folk art and for Freight House, it’s just a place that you don’t expect to exist in a small town like Paducah. I think people come in all the time and are really surprised not only at the quality of food, but the level of service that we provide here. I get a lot of that from coming from all those Michelin-starred kitchens and just having very detailed ways we do everything. At Freight House, the food is wholesome, it feels good. You feel good about eating it, you feel good about everyone that’s there. I think it’s probably the best restaurant in Kentucky.
Did having been on the Kentucky season help with surviving all those COVID restrictions with the restaurant?
Sara Bradley: Yeah, I think that Top Chef definitely makes an economic impact in revenue base, whenever you’re talking about it. You can talk to any chef that’s been on Top Chef and it has helped them. It did help push us through Covid. I’m glad now to have the opportunity to come back and try again.
I’ve already seen the premiere of the new season so I feel like I’m at an advantage compared to the rest of the family.
Sara Bradley: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because we really aren’t supposed to tell anybody and I’m pretty secretive. I love holding the secrets of what happens on Top Chef. It’s a lot of fun—just my folks and my husband, maybe a few other people know what happens, and they know that they can’t tell. They’re all sworn to secrecy. You are one of the only family members that knows outside of them.
That’s because of press perks. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten a screener.
Sara Bradley: (Laughs) I’m excited to see the first episode. I think that I’m a really different person than I was when I competed in 2016. I think that Covid changed me a lot in how I treat my employees and the level of respect I have for everyone that works around me. I also think that becoming a mother has really changed me and the way that I present myself and speak to people and just the way I am. I’m excited to see the difference because I know that there’s a difference from the first time I competed and this time. I’m excited to see how that plays out on TV.
It was so great getting to catch up.
Sara Bradley: Yeah. Good.
Have a good day.
Sara Bradley: Alright. Bye.
Top Chef World All-Stars airs Thursday nights at 9 PM ET/PT on Bravo.
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