Growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Kelly discovered her passion for cooking and baking at an early age. After baking for iconic New Orleans chef Susan Spicer and graduating from Johnson & Wales in Charleston, she returned to New Orleans where she met Chef John Besh, and began working as pastry chef at Restaurant August. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave and she pursued travel in Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, even landing in San Francisco, where she helped open Martin’s West.
After working as the Executive Pastry Chef overseeing all of the pastry programs within the Besh Restaurant Group, Kelly fulfilled her dream of opening a Southern-inspired restaurant and bakery, Willa Jean, in 2015. Willa Jean has received local and national recognition, such as Louisiana Cookin’s “Bakery and Beyond” award and Travel + Leisure’s list of its favorite bakeries around the world.
Kelly has also earned significant praise in Bon Appétit, Saveur and National Geographic among others. In February 2016, Southern Living named Kelly one of their “Southern kitchen magicians.” Later that year, she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef and won Eater New Orleans’ “Chef of the Year” and “Readers Choice” Awards. She has also been named one of the most influential people in the South by Garden & Gun and one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine. In 2017, she was also nominated for the James Beard Award Outstanding Pastry Chef.
In addition to her role at Willa Jean, she’s worked hard to make a positive impact on the city by developing relationships with local farmers and working closely with the John Besh Foundation as a mentor for Chefs Move! scholarship recipients.