Matt Kern Karen Kern Beard Awards

Kern won’t bring home Beard Award but still feels like winner

Pam GeorgeCulture, Headlines

Matt Kern Karen Kern Beard Awards

Matt and Karen Kern enter James Beard Awards at Chicago’s Lyric Theatre Monday night.

It’s not often that you get to meet your idols. 

But during the James Beard Awards events in Chicago this past weekend, Delaware’s Matt Kern chatted with Elizabeth Faulkner, a “Top Chef” alum and “a hero of mine for probably 20 years,” said Kern, chef-owner of One Coastal in Fenwick Island.

He met Michel Nischan, another hero, and Kevin Tien of Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C., a fellow finalist for the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award.

And, of course, Kern met Harley Peet of Bas Rouge in Easton, Maryland, who received the award in the Mid-Atlantic category. 

That’s fine by Kern.

“I didn’t go into it my first year thinking I was going to win, although there’s always the chance, right?” he said the morning after the June 10 award ceremony. “This is a long game, and Harley Peet was here last year and didn’t win. It made sense for him to take it home this year.”

Kern and his wife, Karen, were happy to network with other restaurateurs and have a couples’ weekend in Chicago.

Path to Windy City

Kern, who grew up near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, came to Delaware to work in a restaurant. After meeting Karen, a Sussex County native, he grew roots in the area—an apt metaphor considering Kern’s dedication to local products and sustainability. 

He also makes a beautiful plate of flavorful food, which he demonstrated as executive chef of Heirloom in Lewes. For two consecutive years, he was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.

The 2024 nomination was particularly sweet, given that he and Karen now own One Coastal, a small restaurant that lacks the bells and whistles of other kitchens yet produces rave-worthy cuisine. 

More than a few chefs in Chicago told Kern they were eager to try his restaurant. 

“That was awesome because I look up to this community of chefs,” Kern said. “There were a bunch of people who said, ‘Man, what you’re doing is incredible.’”

Whirlwind Beard Weekend

The Kerns spent most of the weekend at James Beard events, including cocktail hours and industry advocacy workshops. 

The awards ceremony on Monday evening was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

Along with Peet, Tien and Kern, finalists included Tony Conte of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown, Maryland, and Jesse Ito of Royal Sushi & Izakaya in Philadelphia.

Tien’s pastry chef was also up for his award, and his entire restaurant crew—47 people—flew to Chicago. (Neither won.)

RELATED STORY: Matt Kern of One Coastal is James Beard finalist

A gala followed the ceremony, but the Kerns grew weary after an hour. They bought a deep-dish Chicago pizza and a bottle of wine and watched “Ghostbusters” in the hotel room.

The awards ceremony gave the Kerns their first opportunity to go to Chicago, and before leaving, they were determined to visit Mr. Beef, the inspiration behind the show “The Bear.”

Sinking his teeth into a hot Italian beef sandwich and meeting idols and peers made the trip worthwhile.

“I’m just grateful that I got to be able to come here and represent Delaware,” he said. “I do hope to come back.”

Few who’ve sampled his cuisine would doubt it.

James Beard winners

Outstanding Restaurateur: Erika Whitaker and Kelly Whitaker, The Wolf’s Tailor, BRUTØ, Basta, Boulder, CO

Outstanding Chef: Michael Rafidi, Albi, Washington, D.C.

Outstanding Restaurant: Langbaan, Portland, OR

Best New Restaurant: Dakar NOLA, New Orleans, LA

Outstanding Bakery: ZU Bakery, Portland, ME

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: Atsuko Fujimoto, Norimoto Bakery, Portland, ME

Outstanding Hospitality: Lula Cafe Chicago, IL

Outstanding Wire and Other Beverages Program: Lula Drake Wine Parlour, Columbia, SC

Outstanding Bar: Jewel of the South, New Orleans, LA

Best Chefs by region

California: Lord Maynard Llera, Kuya Lord, Los Angeles, CA

Great Lakes: Hajime Sato, Sozai, Clawson, MI

Mid-Atlantic: Harley Peet, Bas Rouge, Easton, MD

Midwest: Christina Nguyen, Hai Hai, Minneapolis, MN

Mountain: Matt Vawter, Rootstalk, Breckenridge, CO

New York State: Charlie Mitchell, Clover Hill, Brooklyn, NY

Northeast: David Standridge, The Shipwright’s Daughter, Mystic, CT

Northwest and Pacific: Gregory Gourdet, kann, Portland, OR

Southeast: Paul Smith, 1010 Bridge, Charleston, WV

South: Valerie Chang, Maty’s, Miami, FL

Southwest: Rene Andrade, Bacanora, Phoenix, AZ

Texas: Ana Liz Pulido, Ana Liz Taqueria, Mission, TX


Share this Post